UK's Civil Aviation Authority says the 178-year-old company has ceased trading, its four airlines will be grounded, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries, including 9,000 in the UK, will lose their jobs.

Passengers of British travel group Thomas Cook queue at Son Sant Joan airport in Palma de Mallorca on September 23, 2019. British government officials had to aid Thomas Cook passengers after the company's collapse.
Passengers of British travel group Thomas Cook queue at Son Sant Joan airport in Palma de Mallorca on September 23, 2019. British government officials had to aid Thomas Cook passengers after the company's collapse. (AFP)

Veteran British tour operator Thomas Cook collapsed after failing to secure rescue funding, and travel bookings for its more than 600,000 global vacationers were cancelled early Monday.

The British government said the return of the firm's 150,000 British customers now abroad would be the largest repatriation in its peacetime history. The process is set to begin later Monday.

The Civil Aviation Authority said Thomas Cook has ceased trading, its four airlines will be grounded, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries, including 9,000 in the UK, will lose their jobs. The company had several months ago blamed a slowdown in bookings because of Brexit uncertainty as one of the contributing factors to its crushing debt burden.

The 178-year-old company said on Friday it was seeking $250 million (200 million pounds) in emergency funds to avoid going bust, and was in weekend talks with shareholders and creditors to stave off failure. The prominent firm, whose airliners were a familiar sight in many parts of the world, also operated around 600 UK travel stores.

Britain's CAA said it had arranged an aircraft fleet for the complex British repatriation effort, which is expected to last two weeks.

Crisis reaches popular tourist destinations

Turkey's tourism ministry says there are more than 21,000 Thomas Cook UK customers currently staying in Turkish hotels.

The ministry posted on Twitter on Monday that guest payments were guaranteed, warning there would be legal proceedings against hotels demanding payment from guests or forcing them to leave.

In Greek-administred Cyprus, the deputy minister for tourism announced arrangements were under way to ferry back home the 15,000 Thomas Cook travellers. 

Savvas Perdios said Thomas Cook's bankruptcy will strike a blow to the Cypriot tourism industry, as annually around 250,000 British citizens visit the island. 

Spanish airport operator AENA says 46 flights have been affected by the collapse of the British tour company Thomas Cook, mostly in Spain's Balearic and Canary archipelagos.

In the sun-bathed Canary Islands, a popular year-round destination in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa, up to 30,000 tourists are believed to be stranded, the head of the Las Palmas province hoteliers' federation said Monday.

Germany's Condor airline says it can no longer carry travellers who booked with Thomas Cook companies.

Condor, itself owned by Thomas Cook, said early Monday that it is still flying and is seeking a bridging loan from the German government.
According to Thomas Cook, 140,000 people who booked with its German tour operators are currently on vacation and 21,000 were supposed to depart Monday or Tuesday.

Most of Thomas Cook's British customers are protected by the government-run travel insurance program, which makes sure vacationers can get home if a British-based tour operator fails while they are abroad.

Thomas Cook, which began in 1841 with a one-day train excursion in England and now operates in 16 countries, has been struggling over the past few years. 

It only recently raised $1.12 billion (900 million pounds), including receiving money from leading Chinese shareholder Fosun.

In May, the company reported a debt burden of 1.25 billion pounds and cautioned that political uncertainty related to Britain's scheduled departure from the European Union at the end of October had hurt demand for summer holiday travel. 

Heat waves over the past couple of summers in Europe have also led many people to stay at home, while higher fuel and hotel costs have weighed on the travel business.

The company's troubles were already affecting those travelling under the Thomas Cook banner.

A British vacationer told BBC radio on Sunday that the Les Orangers beach resort in the Tunisian town of Hammamet, near Tunis, demanded that guests who were about to leave pay extra money for fear it wouldn't be paid what it is owed by Thomas Cook.

Ryan Farmer, of Leicestershire, said many tourists refused the demand, since they had already paid Thomas Cook, so security guards shut the hotel's gates and "were not allowing anyone to leave."

It was like "being held hostage," said Farmer, who is due to leave Tuesday. He said he would also refuse to pay if the hotel asked him.

Source: AP