Belgian tour operator Neckermann has filed for protection from its creditors, in a last-ditch attempt to avoid bankruptcy.
The process would allow the company three months of breathing space in which to look for financial support to get the company out of its current troubles.
Technically, the company will ask a court in Nivelles in Walloon Brabant to authorise a procedure of judicial reorganisation. This assumes a good-faith intention on the part of the company to put its affairs in order. Only if that fails within the deadline, can creditors come in and divide up the company’s assets.
Neckermann was saved from the brink once already, a year ago following the collapse of its British parent company Thomas Cook, when it was saved by the Spanish-owned Wamos Group. Things were looking up briefly, and then the coronavirus appeared on the scene, and the tourism industry collapsed.
“The reopening of the borders in June and the first weeks of July offered some relief, but due to the increasing number of infections, the unclear communication from the government and the confusing colour codes, no more tours were organised,” said CEO Laurent Allardin.
“Our sales have been reduced to zero since the second corona wave.”
The crash hit the entire sector, not only Neckermann.
“Yet the Belgian government is not doing anything to help the sector survive structurally,” said Allardin. “Tour operators, airlines and travel companies are all linked. If one major player fails, the first domino of a long chain will collapse.”
In June, soon after the country came out of lockdown, Neckermann managed to get a loan of €2.6 million from BNP Paribas, and the investment arms of both Flanders and Wallonia came forward with a line of credit. But that was not enough to counter the effects of the pandemic.
Wamos Group, meanwhile, stands ready to help out only if Neckermann obtains some assistance in Belgium first.
Neckermann has 59 agencies in Belgium, all of which will close from Monday until the end of December or until the tourism market picks up. Most of the 180 staff are currently on temporary unemployment.
“I want to emphasize: we are not bankrupt,” Allardin said. “We need a moment of rest, where we can consider all options, seek support, and then move on.”