178-year-old British tour operator Thomas Cook collapsed overnight stranding over 50,000 travellers in Greece, which was the operator’s second-biggest destination behind Spain.
Founded in Market Harborough in 1841, Thomas Cook served 19 million customers a year with a staff of 22,000 in 16 countries, including 1,200 employees in Greece whose jobs are at risk.
The company also had 48 own-brand hotels in Greece, directly employing 1,200 people in the country through a combination of in-destination customer support teams, quality management, contracting and hotel employees, with Kos, Rhodes, Corfu, and Crete being Thomas Cook's most popular islands.
The company announced in a statement that its board "concluded that it had no choice but to take steps to enter into compulsory liquidation with immediate effect."
"An application was made to the High Court for a compulsory liquidation of the Company before the opening of business today and an order has been granted to appoint the Official Receiver as the liquidator of the Company," it said in the statement.
Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook's chief executive, apologised to customers, employees, suppliers, and partners.
"This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world," Fankhauser said.
All customers currently abroad with Thomas Cook who are booked to return to the UK over the next two weeks will be brought home "as close as possible" to their booked return date, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said.
Customers will be brought home to the UK on special free flights or booked onto another scheduled airline at no extra cost.
Flights will start operating from Monday, with details of each flight to be posted on a dedicated website, which can be found here.
The DfT added that a "small number" of passengers may need to book their own flight home and reclaim the costs.
Customers have been urged not to cut short their holiday or go to the airport without checking the website for more information about their return journey.
Up to one million people with forwarding bookings with Thomas Cook have been told the vast majority will get their money refunded, however, the process could take months. In the meantime, airfares and holiday prices are expected to soar as other travel firms take advantage of the surge in demand.
The company also issued a statement on their website:
“Thomas Cook UK Plc and associated UK entities have entered Compulsory Liquidation and are now under the control of the Official Receiver. The UK business has ceased trading with immediate effect and all future flights and holidays are cancelled. A dedicated support service is being provided by The Civil Aviation Authority to assist customers currently overseas and those in the UK with future bookings."