Freedom Travel Group agents say they have been left in the dark and fearing for survival following the collapse of Thomas Cook.
The group, which comprised 155 consortium agents and 140 Personal Travel Advisors operating independently of Cook, went into liquidation as a result of its failure.
Management services and booking systems were shut down, leaving agents no access to client information on existing or forward bookings and unable to trade.
Agents said there was “total confusion” over whether bookings, mostly dynamic packages, would go ahead or not as, despite monies being paid into a trust fund, some suppliers had cancelled bookings. These included Hotelbeds and Holiday Extras, which said it had to “protect our business” but would work with Freedom agents.
Suppliers were due to meet with the CAA on Wednesday to lobby for a fulfilment company to be created, meaning customers would not be refunded from Freedom’s trust fund and holidays would go ahead.
Andrew Earle, of Andrew Earle’s Holidays, said difficulties were compounded because clients are not aware of Freedom’s relationship with Cook. He said: “We’ve been overlooked and a lot of us are fearful about the future. It’s been so difficult because customers have been coming in and we can’t give them answers.”
Jayde Nassa, owner of Nassa Travel, had 300 passengers booked with suppliers under Freedom’s Atol, and 1,043 Cook customers. She said: “I am trying to get signed up to another consortium. I have not been trading. I have lost so much business this week.”
Another Freedom agent, who asked not to be named, paid for clients’ accommodation out of his own pocket to avoid losing a booking. He said: “We cannot trade until we have another Abta number. I don’t know how many can sustain their cash flows over the new few months. We have been left in the dark.”
Agents have been contacting other consortia and homeworking groups in a bid to restart trading and keep their businesses afloat. Midcounties Co-Operative, The Vertical Group, The Travel Network Group and Protected Trust Services had taken Freedom members on.
Alistair Rowland, chief retail officer, specialist business at Midcounties-owned Co-Op Travel Consortium, said: “We expect a significant number of Personal Travel Advisors and consortium agents will come to us as it’s the most natural home for systems and continuity. We are very supportive of doing anything we can to make the transition as smooth as possible.”
Around a dozen PTA homeworkers moved to Your Holiday Booking and Holiday Elite in The Vertical Group. The group is offering Freedom agents ‘instant commission’ to ensure they receive commission in the month after any bookings.
The Vertical Group founder Peter Healey, one of the founders of Freedom, said: “This is desperate stuff. We are doing what we can to help these agents keep their heads above water but the next few months will be very difficult.”
The Travel Network Group said it has been inundated with calls from Freedom members. Gary Lewis, chief executive of the group, said: “We are in the process of getting a good number of them to set up to trade straight away. In these times, it’s all about the industry pulling together and it’s not in anyone’s interest to see more agents fail.”
Protected Trust Services head of marketing communications Jacqui Cleaver said the group had taken on three Freedom agents and had three more in the pipeline. It has reduced its joining fees from £1,200 to £500. many agents had not idea they would be left out on a limb by the Cook failure.
She said: “Agents are totally in the dark. It is so upsetting. They have not been able to ring their clients and their businesses are built on their reputations.”
The founder of Freedom, David Elstob, said he was “absolutely devastated and appalled by the compulsory liquidation”.