Full extent of problems from Thomas Cook collapse ‘not yet apparent’, SETE head warns

The repercussions for Greece from the collapse of Thomas Cook, the second largest travel agency in the world, have not yet become fully apparent, the president of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) Yiannis Retsos said in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) published on Saturday.

He noted the damage to the “backbone” of the Greek tourism industry – the hotels that had worked with Thomas Cook’s networks – and said the issue was “systemic,” affecting the Greek economy in general.

Retsos said the measures that SETE had asked for to support the tourism businesses affected were not a bailout at the expense of Greek tax payers. “We never asked to be given the money that would not be paid by the company that went bankrupt. On the contrary, we asked for measures to relieve us from paying VAT on invoices that tourist enterprises will never be able to collect,” he added.

SETE’s chief said the impact of the collapse was made worse by its timing, which came in the third quarter of the year, at the height of the tourist season when tourism had its highest revenues. This alone, he said, raises questions as to whether the companies “exposed” to Thomas Cook will be able to meet their own obligations to suppliers and others.

“If one takes into account tourism’s multiplier on the economy (ranging from 2.1 to 2.5), this could potentially spell a great loss for the Greek economy,” he said.

It could also have knock-on effects on the plans of tourism enterprises to invest and modernise their units as well as pushing companies with large loans or marginal profits into the red. On the matter of loans, Retsos said SETE has been in contact with the Hellenic Bank Association to determine the extend of tourism’s exposure to bank loans, while it was pressing the state’s public revenues authority AADE to remove sums that have not been collected from companies’ total turnover.

On the future of Greece’s tourism sector, Retsos said the wager remained the same, with the focus on improving quality, in line with worldwide trends, and not increasing arrivals. He forecast that the number of tourists brought to Greece by Thomas Cook will not be “covered” by other tour operators and that, regardless of the numbers, there would be a pressure for lower prices that will decrease revenues.