The board of the tour operator Neckermann, which runs a chain of travel agents across Belgium, has given itself until 22 February to solve its cash problems or declare bankruptcy.
The deadline is a last-ditch effort to save the company, and the jobs of its 150 employees.
We have been here before. In 2019 Neckermann Belgium was saved from the brink of bankruptcy after the collapse of the British parent company Thomas Cook when 62 of the 91 branches were taken over by Spanish tour company Wamos and rebranded as Neckermann.
Now Wamos is itself in trouble, in common with the rest of the holiday industry, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of the year, Neckermann was about to file for protection from its creditors, when Wamos threw a lifeline, promising €3.5 million.
“Only €100,000 of that money has been deposited a few times, but we still have to wait for the main balance,” says Els De Coster of the liberal trade union CGSLB.
Speaking to De Tijd, CEO Laurent Allardin explained that the money was never supposed to come in one lump sum. However he did admit that a transfer of one million euros due to arrive at the beginning of February had not arrived. The Spanish parent explained to him that they are waiting for state support from the Spanish government.
The clock is now ticking down to 22 February – one week from tomorrow – by which time money will need to have come in from somewhere, whether Madrid or anywhere else. Allardin has ruled out any help from the Belgian government at this time.
The agencies are currently closed, and staff on temporary unemployment. But there are still costs to be paid: rent on premises, running costs like phone and internet, not to mention the sums that still have to be paid as part of the original agreement with creditors.
Employees, unusually, do not point the finger at management. According to Els De Coster, “they never had a fair chance,” thanks to Covid-19.