ATHENS (Reuters) - About 50,000 tourists are stranded in Greece and mainly on island resorts after British travel firm Thomas Cook collapsed, the tourism minister said on Monday as extra flights were booked to ease their return home.
Officials said the tourists, mostly British, were on the islands of Zakynthos, Kos, Corfu, Skiathos and Crete, hitting an industry accounting for about a quarter of Greek economic output.
Thomas Cook, one of Britain’s oldest companies, ran hotels, resorts and airlines for 19 million people a year in 16 countries. It entered liquidation on Monday, stranding half a million holidaymakers around the world.
“We have about 50,000 people in Greece and there has been a rescue plan, a plan of repatriation currently underway,” Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis told Reuters.
“We are supporting as much as we can,” he said, adding that the Greek authorities had a contingency plan.
“Extra flights have been booked at Greek airports and already the first 15 have come to ensure those people go back smoothly to their homeland. Also, the cost of their stay for the rest of their holidays is being covered,” Theoharis said.
About 22,000 tourists were expected to return home at the end of their holidays, with the rest returning after seven to 10 days, he said.
Thomas Cook’s financial collapse would deal a significant blow to hoteliers, since many vacation packages were not prepaid, the head of Greece’s hotel federation said.
“The situation is quite difficult. It does not affect just British tourists but other nationalities as well,” Grigoris Tassios told state TV ERT.
Many hotels were expected to make losses on payments affecting vacation packages for the last two months, meaning “many millions of euros,” he said. “Up to Oct. 15, there are high occupancies, we will suffer losses from this segment, too.”
He said hotel companies would turn to the courts to try and recover money owed by Thomas Cook.
“This is an earthquake on a scale of seven, now we are waiting for the tsunami,” Michalis Vlatakis, president of the Association of Travel Agents of Crete, told the Athens News Agency.
The Greek tourism confederation SETE said the industry could overcome the challenge and called on the government to propose measures to help companies cope with any problems they faced.
Greece has experienced an upsurge in tourism in recent years with a record 33 million visitors last year.
Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Michele Kambas; Editing by Edmund Blair