The Travel Guarantee Fund is ready to step in for clients of Thomas Cook in Belgium if the Belgian branch of the travel operator were to follow in the footsteps of the U.K. entity and cease operations.
“So far only the U.K. entity has declared bankruptcy,” Brigitte Baetens who works in the fund’s legal department said in a phone interview.
The U.K. travel firm on Monday shocked the global travel industry as it announced it was ceasing all U.K. operations and going into administration, in an event seen as unprecedented for the travel industry in Belgium.
“It’s a tragedy for the sector and for the travel industry in Belgium,” General Manager of the fund, Mark De Vriendt said, according to news agency Belga. “It’s unheard of.”
Following the announcement on Monday, De Vriendt said that the travel fund, an insurer for Thomas Cook, had sufficient resources to guarantee refunds for the firm’s Belgian branch which remained operational on Monday.
The announcement on Monday saw British authorities go into overdrive to assist the hundreds of thousands of U.K. travellers left stranded abroad.
A bankruptcy declaration from the firm’s Belgian branch could launch authorities into a similar frenzy in order to assist the estimated 10,000 Belgians currently abroad via a Thomas Cook booking.
The fund’s intervention would be started immediately after a potential insolvency announcement, Baetens said.
The travel fund would first attempt to work out alternative solutions for holidaymakers already abroad to continue their trip or to fly back with alternative operators. Travel or holiday packages which have not yet been used would be either reimbursed or arranged with a different operator, she added.
If no alternative arrangements can be put in place, the fund would issue refunds to the concerned travellers.
The bankruptcy of the firm’s Belgian branch would deal a blow to the travel industry in the country, in which Thomas Cook, together with Anglo-German travel firm Tui, is a dominant market player.
“If Tui were to remain the sole operator in Belgium, we would be dealing with a monopoly situation,” Koen van den Bosch, head of the VVR association of Flemish travel agencies, said to Belga.