Which Middle Eastern countries will be affected by Thomas Cook collapse?

Which Middle Eastern countries will be affected by Thomas Cook collapse?
Tourism in Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt has only just bounced back from a spate of extremist attacks and political upheaval a few years ago.
3 min read
23 September, 2019
Thomas Cook owes Tunisian hotels around $66 million [Getty]
The abrupt collapse of British tourism giant Thomas Cook on Monday has reignited fears over the fragile tourism industries in Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt.

All three countries have suffered devestating hits to tourism over the past decade amid extremist attacks, but recent years had seen tourists return.

The vernight collapse of the world's oldest tour operator has affected around 600,000 passengers, with a reported 150,000 British citizens stranded abroad.

Among them are 21,033 Thomas Cook customers stuck in Turkey, according to Ankara's tourism ministry.

Thomas Cook operator Blue Sky said it had 1,600 tourists currently in its Hurghada resort, while around 4,500 remain in Tunisia, according to the country's tourism minister.

While thousands of tourists are now stranded, even more workers in Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey's fragile - but vital - tourism industries will be affected.

In all three countries, European tourists staying at seaside resorts on package holidays were once a key source of revenue.

But extremist attacks and political turbulence saw the industry crash.

Egypt's 2011 revolution and subsequent political upheaval saw tourists run from the major sites in Cairo and Luxor, while the downing of a Russian airliner shortly after its take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh in 2015 brought visitor numbers to Red Sea resorts to a crashing halt.

Likewise, a series of extremist attacks on tourist sites in Tunisia in 2015 saw visitors flee from the North African nation.

Attacks by Kurdish and Islamist extremist militants in 2015 and a deadly failed coup attempted in 2016 led to a sharp decline in Turkey's vital tourism industry.

Figures have bounced back in recent years, with rapid increases in visitors in all three countries in 2018, the year when many European package holiday companies - including Thomas Cook - returned to Tunisia.

Package holiday providers, which remained in Turkey despite the dip in tourist numbers, also began to return to Egypt last year.

Many of those gains could be lost as numbers are likely to decline significantly.

'Crisis cell'

Thomas Cook's demise could mean 600,000 to 700,000 fewer visitors annually for Turkey, the head of the country's Hoteliers Federation said on Monday.

Operator Blue Sky said on Monday it had cancelled 25,000 reservations in Egypt up until April 2020, with a further 75,000 already reserved throughout 2020 with the collapsed tourism operator.

Tunisian Tourism Minister Rene Trabelsi told Reuters on Monday that hotels in the country are owed some 60 million euros ($66 million) for stays in July and August by Thomas Cook.

The threat of such dramatic losses saw one resort owner allegedly barricade British tourists inside the Tunisian resort on Saturday night in an attempt to get them to settle their bills.

Turkey's government has threatened to take legal action against hotel owners found guilty of evicting tourists or forcing them to pay in the wake of the Thomas Cook closure. 

Reuters reported that Turkish hotel owners are owed some £100,000 to £200,000 ($124,000 to $248,000) by Thomas Cook.

The Tunisian authorities have now set up a "crisis cell" to deal with the fallout.

"I will have a meeting on Tuesday with the British Embassy in Tunisia and the hotel owners to see how debt could be redeemed," Trabelsi said.

Hotel owners will be paid for hosting Thomas Cook customers through a government insurance scheme, the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said.