BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – Three of the major tourist destinations in the Caribbean have shared contrasting views on the impact the collapse of the British-based travel company, Thomas Cook, would have on their tourism industry.
Thomas Cook, which had struggled against fierce online competition for some time and blamed Brexit uncertainty for a recent drop in bookings, declared bankruptcy after failing to secure £200 million (US$250 million, 227 million euros) from private investors.
Chief executive officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Colin C. James said that the impact of the collapse would be insignificant.
He said Thomas Cook has been operating a once-weekly service into Antigua and Barbuda since December 2013.
“There are no passengers stranded in Antigua and Barbuda at the moment because that service operates only from November to April. But we have approximately 992 bookings that have already been on the books,” James said, noting that while island enjoyed a good working relationship with the company, passengers utilizing its service sonly represent a small fraction of the United Kingdom market.
“Last year, for example, Thomas Cook did approximately 1,600 passengers to Antigua and Barbuda out of a total of 70, 670 from the UK, so it is less than a half percent impact. So the impact will be very negligible.
Meanwhile, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, who held talks with the British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad on Monday, is expected to lead a delegation to London on Tuesday as part of the efforts to mitigate the impact of the closure of the company.
“We will be working feverishly over the next few weeks to mitigate the impact of it and to ensure that the fallout to our market will be minimised,” he said, acknowledging that the closure of the British tour company will negatively affect Jamaica’s tourism.
Bartlett said Thomas Cook was responsible for bringing up to 14,000 passengers to Jamaica annually.
“The impact on our tourism industry will be huge because they have long-staying guests averaging 14 days. When you multiply that, it is a couple hundred million dollars,” Bartlett said.
In Barbados, tourism stakeholders acknowledged that the collapse would have an impact on the industry.
“We were aware of the company’s ongoing financial challenges for some time. It is a major blow to the industry to lose the world’s oldest travel company,” the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) said.
It said it was working closely with other stakeholders including the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) to minimize the impact to Barbados’ tourism business.
“Our first priority is working with the BHTA to facilitate solutions for the visitors currently on the island who would have booked Thomas Cook packages. While customers are entitled to refunds from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), we are committed to ensuring minimal discomfort and disruption to their Barbados holidays due to the fallout.
“It is estimated that there are currently only 44 Thomas Cook guests on the island, all booked through scheduled airlines and it is likely that they will not be considered as stranded passengers,” the BTMI said.
Thomas Cook currently operates three flights to Barbados from Manchester in the winter, as well as a direct flight from the London Gatwick airport, providing a total of approximately 24,000 seats to the destination each year.
The 178-year-old company officially ended its operations on Sunday after last-minute negotiations aimed at saving it failed.
The BTMI said it estimated that about 60 percent of Thomas Cook’s winter business to the island would have been booked in advance and that it was already working on a strategy to assist any displaced passengers.
“The Honourable Kerrie Symmonds, Minister of Tourism and International Transport, is already in the UK meeting with other airline partners who currently service Thomas Cook’s routes,” the BTMI said.
The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (NHTA) has also expressed concern at the closure.
“The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association is very concerned about the recent failure of Thomas Cook and its impact for the winter season when the service would be operating,” said BHTA chief executive officer, Rudy Grant, who is also part of the Barbados delegation in the United Kingdom.