Thomas Cook has today been forced to refund British tourists who said they were ‘held hostage’ and forced to hand over money to Tunisian hotel staff who feared the ailing travel firm would not pay its bills.
Security guards at the Les Orangers beach resort near Tunis kept the gates locked shut while staff demanded money, guests said.
Many holidaymakers refused to pay, as they had already given their money to Thomas Cook for the holiday, leading to a stand-off.
Today Thomas Cook said it had refunded customers who paid by credit card and said guests who had booked the Les Orangers would be diverted elsewhere.
‘Thomas Cook haven’t even gone bust yet and it’s turning into a nightmare,’ said one guest, Sarah Addison.
Another tourist, Ryan Farmer, said: ‘We can’t leave the hotel. I’d described it as exactly the same as being held hostage.’
The lockdown adds an extra cost for Thomas Cook at the time they need it least – just as company bosses are meeting shareholders for crunch talks in the City today in a last-ditch bid to raise another £200million and save Britain’s oldest travel firm.
There are fears that tourists could be ‘turfed out’ of their hotels if the company goes into administration, leaving elderly holidaymakers ‘sleeping on the beach’, sources told The Times.
Today the Foreign Secretary promised that Brits will not be left stranded abroad if Thomas Cook collapses but thousands more face an anxious wait over future holidays and expensive wedding plans.
This picture taken by a British holidaymaker shows the locked gates of a Tunisian hotel where staff are allegedly keeping guests shut in until they are paid
Guests are said to be locked in the Tunisian beach resort where staff are demanding money as they fear Thomas Cook will not pay its bills
Pat Haynes (left) and Sarah Addison (far right) were among the guests who were stuck in Tunisia as hotel staff demanded money
It came as:
- Some guests in Tunisia were apparently forced to pay up to £2,000 by hotel staff who kept them locked inside;
- UK officials drew up plans to rescue Thomas Cook customers in what would be an unprecedented operation;
- Thomas Cook made a last-ditch bid for Government help by casting doubt on whether such a rescue operation could work;
- Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab promised that ‘no one will be stranded’ if the firm goes bust;
- Security minister Brandon Lewis said he hoped for a ‘positive conclusion’ but did not comment on a possible bailout;
- Anxious holidaymakers bombarded Thomas Cook with messages on social media, asking what would happen to their bookings;
- Security guards were reportedly hired to ‘lock down’ the company’s premises in the UK.
Thomas Cook needs £200million on top of the £900million rescue deal agreed last month and is now hoping for an unlikely government bailout.
But there are fears that British tourists could be turfed out of their hotel beds if Thomas Cook collapses, effectively turning European holiday resorts into ‘refugee camps’.
‘We will know by tomorrow if agreement is reached,’ a source said yesterday.
Thomas Cook continued to reassure worried customers today that their flights continue to operate as normal and all their package holidays are ATOL-protected.
It insisted this morning it was ‘working on recapitalisation plans’ as the crunch meeting took place at the offices of City law firm Slaughter & May.
A collapse would leave up to 150,000 UK holidaymakers stranded and the Government is drawing up plans for Britain’s largest peacetime repatriation if the firm goes bust.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that contingency planning was underway across Government departments.
‘I can reassure people that in the worst-case scenario, the contingency planning is there to avoid people being stranded,’ he said.
Two years ago, the collapse of Monarch Airlines prompted the British government to take emergency action to return 110,000 stranded passengers, costing taxpayers some £60million on hiring planes.
Thousands of workers could also lose their jobs, with the 178-year-old company employing about 22,000 staff worldwide, including 9,000 in Britain.
Describing the chaos in Tunisia, Ryan Farmer said guests had been summoned to reception ‘to pay additional fees, obviously because of the situation with Thomas Cook’.
Other guests arriving at the resort have been locked out and coaches turned away, holidaymakers said.
‘We’ve been up to the gates. They had four security guards on the gates, holding the gates closed, and were not allowing anybody to leave,’ Mr Farmer said.
‘They don’t say anything, they just stand there holding the gates.’
A woman in her 80s had been forced to pay ‘more than £2,000’ to the hotel even though she had already paid Thomas Cook for the holiday, he said.
Another Les Orangers guest, Dean Williams, told MailOnline the hotel has ‘taken it upon themselves to charge the customers as they haven’t been paid by Thomas Cook’.
Mr Williams said the hotel had switched the WiFi off and a coach had arrived at 8.20pm to take guests to the airport but the hotel would not permit them to collect passengers.
James and Rebecca Hyam, from Lichfield, are concerned about returning home from their honeymoon in Cancun. The newlyweds were are supposed to be flying back to Manchester on Monday night
Anxious holidaymakers bombard Thomas Cook with messages
Anxious holidaymakers are bombarding Thomas Cook with messages revealing their worries about returning home.
But not all of them found the beleaguered company’s responses helpful.
One Twitter user with the name Joan Liceaga said: ‘I have close family due to fly back from Cyprus on Wed and I’m worried about them getting home. Will they be OK?’
Thomas Cook responded: ‘Hello Joan. We understand you are unsettled by all the media speculation surrounding Thomas Cook.’
Another Twitter user replied: ‘Helpful!’
Another two women revealed they were getting married next week and planning to fly out on honeymoon two days later.
Thomas Cook said that all their package holidays continue to remain fully ATOL protected.
‘There was a gentleman from Ireland trying to talk to the security guards and say, look, we want to go home, we want to go home. Can you let us out? They just look at him and laugh and continue to hold the gate shut,’ Mr Farmer said.
‘A Thomas Cook representative is trying to sort things out with the hotel, but they’re just not interested.’
The British Consulate in Tunisia has reportedly been made aware of the situation at the hotel.
Claire Simpson, who was supposed to return to Manchester last night, told The Sun: ‘Les Orangers have locked the gates to the hotel and are keeping people hostage.
‘Three buses came to take people to the airport and they’ve been turned away.
‘They are claiming Thomas Cook hasn’t paid them, so are demanding that we pay them.’
She claimed the hotel put security guards along the beach to prevent an ‘escape’.
One tourist claimed a pensioner was charged £2,500 and another customer was forced to pay £1,800 to gain access to their room.
Social media video showed tourists gathered by the gates saying they had not been informed of what was going on.
This morning the company said: ‘We’re aware a small number of customers were asked to pay for their hotel before leaving Tunisia, we have refunded all who paid on their credit cards.
‘Thomas Cook will not be sending any new arrivals to Les Orangers and anyone due to stay at this hotel will be offered an alternative hotel in Hammamet.’
The company also warned that ‘normal booking conditions and cancellation charges’ would apply if worried customers called off their holidays.
One customer said it was a ‘very uneasy situation’ as he was due to be travelling to the resort with his pregnant girlfriend.
Another couple, Chloe Sharpe and Paul Kerfoot, both 27, were looking forward to their wedding in Cyprus next month, with 50 guests expected to attend.
But after booking everything through Thomas Cook months ago, they are now concerned.
The couple have paid Thomas Cook £6,000 for the wedding, and a coordinator out in Cyprus has booked the church and Paphos Town Hall for the reception, on October 15.
Hairdresser Chloe said: ‘It’s a lot of money to lose and if they do go bust, its a case of finding another £6,000 to find another holiday and find another wedding package.’
In Majorca, British tourists Jackie Ward, 58, and daughter Amy, 24, were rescued by a stranger after fearing that Jackie would run out of vital heart medication before they could get back
In a last ditch bid to win support, the company is understood to be warning regulators about the practicalities of the Government’s repatriation plans
British woman stranded in Turkey ‘forced to sleep outside with her suitcase as a pillow’
A British woman says she was left stranded in Turkey after her Thomas Cook flight was cancelled and had to sleep on the ground outside the airport using her suitcase as a pillow.
Beka Whitelaw was among 300 passengers who were meant to return from Antalya, Turkey to Glasgow on September 20 but was left stranded after Thomas Cook said an ‘engine fault’ would stop the aircraft from flying, Glasgow Live reported.
Beka Whitelaw was among 300 passengers who were meant to return from Antalya
Ms Whitelaw said children, pensioners and disabled passengers had been ‘dumped’ from the plane and ‘kicked out’ of the airport following the fault.
‘Sleeping on the street outside Antalya Airport with no confirmation of when our flight home is,’ she said. ‘Using a suitcase for a pillow isn’t fun.
‘The lack of communication by Thomas Cook is unbelievable. The airport staff here are even worse.
‘Children, elderly and disabled all stranded. No hotels.’
Ms Whitelaw, of Glasgow, said she was eventually given accommodation after waiting 12 hours.
One user posted a video purporting to show guests by the hotel gates, saying: ‘It’s absolutely disgusting that Thomas Cook customers being locked in hotels in Tunisia until they pay the bill that the hotel claim Thomas Cook owes them.’
In Majorca, British tourists Jackie Ward, 58, and daughter Amy, 24, were rescued by a stranger after fearing that Jackie would run out of vital heart medication before they could get back.
On holiday to celebrate her recovery from cancer, she was due to get home on Monday and had only brought enough medication to last until Sunday.
Speaking to Sky News her daughter Amy said it would be ‘really serious’ and ‘could even be fatal’ if their flight was cancelled and her mother missed her medication.
But an anonymous customer stepped in to book them alternative flights home after hearing about their plight.
James and Rebecca Hyam, from Lichfield, are concerned about returning home from their honeymoon in Cancun. The newlyweds were are supposed to be flying back to Manchester on Monday night.
Mr Hyam told CNN: ‘There are quite a few of us here with Thomas Cook at the hotel where we are staying. Everyone is quite concerned.’
The issues facing the travel company had ‘transformed a nice, relaxing honeymoon holiday to a Twitter frenzy trying to find out what happens next,’ he told the broadcaster.
Others face having future holiday plans ruined. Chloe Hardy told BBC News her wedding in Zante in October – which she booked more than a year ago – is now under threat.
‘We’ve had constant questions from our family that we are unable to answer,’ she said.
‘Our wedding is costing almost £12,000 with things we have bought here, the wedding package, everything we have organised with the resort wedding coordinator.’
The scenes in Tunisia will concern hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers who face being stranded abroad, unable to attend key events such as weddings or return to work, if the company cannot be rescued this weekend.
Others had to tell devastated children that long-planned holidays were now in severe doubt.
Chloe Hardy and her fiance Jack (pictured together) said her wedding in Zante in October – which she booked more than a year ago – is now under threat
Cancer survivor with dwindling medication is rescued by generous stranger
A British mother feared she would run out of medication and die if Thomas Cook went bust and her flight was cancelled – prompting a mystery stranger to step in and rescue her.
Jackie Ward, 58, brought enough medicine until Sunday and was due to fly back from Majorca on Monday but feared she would not get back with Thomas Cook on the brink of collapse.
Her daughter Amy, 24, told Sky News it would be ‘life-threatening’ and ‘could even be fatal’ if her mother missed her heart medication.
Jackie Ward and her daughter Amy
The pair are on holiday in Spain to celebrate Jackie’s recovery from cancer.
‘I’ve only brought enough medication till Sunday, thinking we’ll get home on Monday. I’ll take it Monday when I get home… I haven’t got anything,’ Jackie said.
The pair, from Newcastle, grew anxious after hearing about Thomas Cook’s struggles and feared the Monday flight would never take place.
Asked how serious it would be if Jackie missed her medication, her daughter said: ‘Really serious, could even be fatal’.
‘It’s devastating. This holiday was supposed to be celebratory and it’s not that anymore,’ she said.
Their saviour, a viewer who gave his name only as Colin, wrote to a Sky News journalist to offer his help and said he had booked alternative flights.
Ministers and the Civil Aviation Authority are preparing to enact Britain’s biggest peacetime repatriation, codenamed Operation Matterhorn, if Thomas Cook goes to the wall, which sources last night said was looking increasingly likely.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, officials have been in talks with airlines including easyJet and Jet2 in case a large-scale rescue operation is needed.
They are said to be looking for a ‘golden hour’ when flights are grounded to announce the company has gone bust, as safety rules say planes should not be in the air when administration is announced.
When Monarch Airlines collapsed in 2017 the company was placed into administration at about 3am when flights were expected back in the UK.
The 178-year-old British travel firm will be put into administration at midnight unless a rescue package is agreed later today, sources have told The Mail on Sunday.
An urgent meeting with creditors and shareholders is taking place this morning at a City law firm.
Today there were reports that security staff had been hired to ‘lock down’ Thomas Cook’s premises in Peterborough and at UK airports.
In a last ditch bid to win support, the company is understood to be warning regulators about the practicalities of the Government’s repatriation plans.
One industry source said the firm was questioning whether the scheme – the cost of which has been estimated to be £600million – would have access to enough planes to fly Britons home without major delays.
The source said spare aircraft are in short supply across Europe and the CAA could struggle to put on flights for up to 180,000 who may be affected.
The source also warned that tourists staying in hotels through Thomas Cook packages could be ‘turfed out’ of their rooms by managers concerned that they may not get paid – particularly if they have to extend their trips due to delays.
‘This is a doomsday scenario, but you could see tourist hotspots effectively turned into refugee camps,’ the MoS was told.
Two years ago, the Government co-ordinated a similar repatriation scheme when Monarch Airlines collapsed.
But sources said Thomas Cook presents an ‘unprecedented’ challenge because it is a larger operator and runs package holidays.
Ministers are coming under increasing pressure to bail out Thomas Cook with a financial lifeline today.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester where more than 3,000 Thomas Cook employees are based, urged Boris Johnson to ‘do all he can today to save this great name of the British high street’.
‘Any rescue package needs to be put in place today and is much more likely to happen if there is some form of UK Government support. If the company collapses, the taxpayer could end up facing a much bigger bill,’ Mr Burnham warned today.
Security minister Brandon Lewis told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that he hoped for a ‘positive conclusion’ but did not comment on a possible bailout.
Sami Ryder, 26, who works in marketing, is due to get married to Dean Turgeon with a Thomas Cook package in Santorini next September
Stranded: Thomas Cook passengers at Antalya Airport in Turkey. Ministers and the Civil Aviation Authority are preparing to enact Britain’s biggest peacetime repatriation, codenamed Operation Matterhorn, if Thomas Cook goes to the wall
The company needs to secure £200million in emergency funds to complete a rescue deal with its lenders and a Chinese tourism firm.
Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of travel workers union TSSA, wrote to Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom yesterday urging the Government to provide Thomas Cook with support amid fears for the future of its 21,000-strong staff.
”It is incumbent upon the government to act if required and save this iconic cornerstone of the British high street and the thousands of jobs that go with it,’ he said.
‘The company must be rescued no matter what,’ he said in the letter.
‘No British Government in its right mind would countenance the loss of so many jobs and the prospect of just one major travel operator – TUI – controlling the mass market.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘We recognise it’s a worrying time for holidaymakers and employees.
‘The financial circumstances of individual businesses are a commercial matter, but the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority are monitoring the situation closely.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘We do not speculate on the financial situation of individual businesses.’
The company needs to secure £200 million in emergency funds to complete a rescue deal with its lenders and a Chinese tourism firm (pictured: Antalya Airport)
On Friday night, passengers flying from Antalya, Turkey, to Glasgow faced further misery when a fault with their Thomas Cook plane stopped it from taking off.
Hundreds who are now left stranded without a hotel to go to fear they will not get home before the travel company collapses.
One passenger, Beka Whitelaw, posted on Twitter: ‘4am…300 of us now kicked out of Antalya airport.. no hotels – children, elderly and disabled stranded…are we to sleep in the street? Not good enough! Only info given is that we’ll receive further update at 2200 tonight!’
Sami Ryder, 26, who works in marketing, is due to get married to Dean Turgeon with a Thomas Cook package in Santorini next September.
She said: ‘The wedding package includes wedding venue, celebrant to marry us, bouquets etc and we have around 30-35 guests flying out with us.’ She said she now fears she and Dean, 27, who live in the Midlands, could be left having to reorganise wedding plans.
Another bride-to-be, Natasha Cairns, has until October 16 to rearrange wedding plans if Thomas Cook goes bust.
She and her fiance are booked to go to Cyprus for their ceremony, reception and honeymoon. They are due to spend two weeks away and 47 guests are planning to travel out for first week. She said: ‘Nobody can give us a straight answer.’
Hundreds who are now left stranded without a hotel to go to fear they will not get home before the travel company collapses (pictured: Antalya Airport)
Thomas Cook, founded in 1841, has experienced major financial problems in recent years, and has built up debts of £1.7billion.
After launching a search for extra funds, in August the firm announced a £900million refinancing deal with banks and Fosun Tourism, a Chinese travel giant.
In return, the Hong Kong-listed conglomerate acquired a 75 per cent stake in Thomas Cook’s tour operating division and 25 per cent of its airline unit.
But the deal was thrown into disarray when Thomas Cook revealed it would need to secure an extra £200million.
The company has blamed a mixture of Brexit uncertainty, environmental concerns and last year’s heatwave for its poor financial state.
News of the firm’s struggles has sparked alarm among the company’s suppliers and future customers who are losing faith in the firm.
That is draining the company of the liquidity it needs to keep operating and ramping up the pressure on one of Britain’s oldest and much-loved companies.
Cabinet maker Thomas Cook created the travel firm in 1841 to carry temperance supporters by train between British cities.
It soon began arranging foreign trips, being the first operator to take British travellers on escorted visits to Europe in 1855, to the United States in 1866 and on a round-the-world trips in 1872.
The company was also a pioneer in introducing ‘circular note’ – products that would later become traveller’s cheques.