Jamaican hotels look to fill gap left by Thomas Cook

BY ALEXIS MONTEITH
Observer writer

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

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Three days into the crisis precipitated by the collapse of the international travel firm Thomas Cook, the potential damage and fallout to Jamaica's tourism industry is still being assessed. The impact will primarily affect hotels and transportation companies, as well as other tourism enterprises which are bound to suffer as a result of the fall-off in arrivals.

Since May 2019, Thomas Cook was operating an A330 aircraft with a capacity of 324 passengers, which was flying into Montego Bay once per week. Thomas Cook Scandinavia from Stockholm was operating the same type of aircraft with fortnightly service during the winter season, since 2013.

In addition, Condor airline, in which Thomas Cook had a 49 per cent share, has been running two weekly flights from Frankfurt and a seasonal, once- weekly flight from Munich using a Boeing 767 with a capacity of up to 375 people. It is not yet known what the fate of Condor will be but it has been reported in international media that the German government will decide on assistance to the airline in the next few days.

Thomas Cook has been doing business with a number of hotels in Jamaica to varying degrees. A hotel can have an exclusivity arrangement with a tour operator or it can have a smaller involvement.

Large tour operators such as Thomas Cook don't usually make pre-payments when making reservations with hotels and the current situation could leave resorts being owed substantial sums of money. The financial collapse of the travel firm means hotels will lose on future bookings and outstanding payments.

“We have to protect an allotment of rooms for companies such as Thomas Cook for every season of the year, so if we have been protecting let's say a hundred rooms per day for a tour operator and all of a sudden this tour operator is cancelling operations then we are going to have to be scrambling to see who at this point can give us that,” explained a hotel industry professional from a resort on the north coast of the island.

“If we had an exclusive arrangement with such a company and they were to pull from our inventory it would make a big hole and because we are exclusive with them we wouldn't have a contract with anybody else so we would have to rush and try to get a new contract with a new tour operator and to build that relationship takes time,” she added. “When you have different tour operators and you don't have exclusivity with one it might be easier but either way it affects you. Remember that the UK, which is served by Thomas Cook, is the third main market for Jamaica after the US and Canada so it does represent a big chunk of money right there.”

One hotel that has been doing business with Thomas Cook is Melia Braco Village in Trelawny. Director of sales and marketing for the hotel, Sheryl-Kaye Thompson, says that the hotel has been impacted but perhaps not as significantly as others.

“Unlike some of the other properties on the island we did not have any form of exclusivity with Thomas Cook,” said Thompson. “However, we did have a contract with them and we have mutual clients. The impact is not as great because that market (the UK market) itself is not the largest producer for Melia Braco Village.”

Thompson revealed that her organisation will be looking to Canada, the US and other regions to regain traction that has been lost.

The Jamaica Observer tried to speak with Thomas Cook's In-Destination Management Service at Sangster's International Airport in Montego Bay to gauge the impact to ground transportation companies but the agency was not commenting at this time.

According to Jamaica's tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett the expected impact of the Thomas Cook crisis will be “huge” and he gave a figure of 14,000, which represents the number of passengers brought to the island, annually. The minister also said the damage could amount to a “couple hundred million dollars”.

But it may be quite some time before there will be a clear and precise assessment of the island's losses depending on the extent and speed at, which the marketing arms of various hotels can compensate for the current impact. This will decide how much other entities such as transportation companies, tour companies and attractions are affected.


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