AFRICA – British travel company Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest tourism operator, has shut down all its operations effective September 23, 2019 affecting more than 600,000 customers.

The 178-year-old company which operated 105 aircraft and 200 own-brand hotels and resorts announced the shutdown through a statement in its official twitter account.

“This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world,” said the statement.

The shutdown follows a failed plea for private investors to provide $250 million to save it from collapse.

“Despite considerable efforts, those discussions have not resulted in an agreement between the company’s stakeholders and proposed new money providers,” the statement continued, referencing its plea to investors.

“The company’s board has therefore concluded that it had no choice but to take steps to enter into compulsory liquidation with immediate effect.”

Fierce competition from more agile and competitively priced may have partly contributed to the misfortunes of one of the world’s largest tourist service provider.

The company had for instance made a loss of £1.5 billion in the first half of 2019 due to a difficult and highly competitive business environment, high fuel and hotel costs and loss of business due to uncertainties associated with Brexit.

The shutting down of Thomas Cook is believed to have devastating effects at a magnitude never experienced before in the United Kingdom and the Tourism Sector at large.

Reports from UK’s CAA show that the shutdown had left about 150,000 British tourists stranded abroad.

The CAA further confirmed that it had chattered aircrafts from several airlines including British Airways and EasyJet to bring stranded British tourists back to the UK.

An estimated 22,000 people will also lose their jobs as a result of the shutdown. 9,000 of the affected Thomas Cook’s employees are British.

The effects of the shutdown have spread far beyond the UK and instantly caused a ripple of worry throughout the tourism sector in Africa.

North African countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt are among Thomas Cook’s top travel destinations which are going to be affected as a result of the shutdown.

In Morocco, the shutdown has left dozens of hotels with unpaid bills from Thomas Cook.

Experts in the industry told Le Matin an estimate 60-80 hotels will be affected, most of them in Marrakech and Agadir

Moroccan tourism authorities have already created a crisis unit to manage the negative effects of the shutdown even as the UK government plans to start repatriating the tourists currently in Morocco.

The crisis team comprises representatives from Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism, the hotel industry, travel agents, and Morocco’s National Office of Tourism.

In Tunisia, where Thomas Cook was sending 150,000 tourists annually, the hotel industry is expecting a loss of €60 million.

British taxpayers are expected to spend close to US$ 746 million in the repatriation exercise codenamed “Operation Matterhorn” that is estimated to be the largest since world war II.

Many commentators on social media have pointed out that the cost is significantly more than the $250 million it would have cost to bail the tourism group out and prevent its collapse.