Mon | Oct 21, 2019

16 charters at risk for Jamaica as Thomas Cook falls

Published:Wednesday | September 25, 2019 | 12:21 AMNeville Graham/Business Reporter
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.

Thomas Cook, which declared bankruptcy on Monday, was expected to fly 16 charters to Jamaica between now and March 2020, leaving the Ministry of Tourism scrambling to ensure that those vacations aren’t cancelled.

“Tourism is a very resilient business, and we in Jamaica are very proactive. While we didn’t anticipate this, we are nimble enough to put in place the things that will prevent us from having a very negative position as a result,” said Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.

Those charters represent 7,300 visitors to Jamaica and a potential loss of US$10 million in tourism spend, said Bartlett. To cauterise it, Jamaica is looking to airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to pick up the slack.

Six of the 16 rotations, where passengers are flown in on a special charter and vacationers are picked up for the return journey, are due between now and the end of October. The tourism minister says that he is aiming to retain at least a half of the number to be affected.

“The fallout that we expect will be minimal in terms of the six rotations that are immediate. The way we look at it is that they will be rebooking with some of the other carriers like Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and so on. That would minimise that fallout, so instead of the 1,800, we could recoup about 900,” Bartlett said.

Thomas Cook’s bankruptcy has become a key issue to be discussed during a previously planned sales junket, the Jamaica Travel Mart in the United Kingdom (UK), scheduled for September 26-28, he said.

The UK currently accounts for about 8.5 per cent of total visitor expenditure, says senior strategist in the Ministry of Tourism Delano Seiveright.

In 2018, the European market, inclusive of the United Kingdom, accounted for 13 per cent of total tourist stopovers to Jamaica. The UK alone was 8.7 per cent.

For the January to July 2019 period, UK and Europe stopovers totalled 190,075 tourists, two per cent, or 3,874, of who came through Thomas Cook, said Seiveright.

The UK alone accounted for 131,178 tourists, whose spend was estimated at US$189.16 million, or 8.5 per cent of the industry total of US$2.23 billion. On average, UK tourists spent US$103 per night on vacations that typically ran for two weeks, he said.

Over the next two weeks, just over 600 Thomas Cook passengers in Jamaica will be repatriated – 300 are to be flown out immediately and another 300 in two weeks when they are scheduled to complete their vacations. Payment for airfare and hotel stays will be secured by an Air Travel Organisers Licensing, or ATOL fund.

ATOL is a UK Civil Aviation Authority insurance scheme that covers passengers in the event that an airline or tour company cannot fulfil its obligations.

Worldwide, the UK expects to repatriate 150,000 vacationers at a cost of £100 million.

Asked for his take on the demise of Thomas Cook, Bartlett said that it should serve as a wake-up call for Jamaican tourism interests to keep pace with technology.

“I don’t know all the circumstances, but I know enough to appreciate that the tourist industry has grown exponentially over the years, and so has the technology, which has played an increasingly significant role not only in the emerging business model but the experiences that visitors are now consuming, so if you don’t change with the times, you will be left behind,” Bartlett said on Monday.

The near 180-year-old tour company had about 550 stores employing 21,000. In recent times, its business had been affected by industry disruptors such as Expedia and Travelocity, in addition to technology that allows individuals to make their own travel bookings.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com