Hundreds of shocked holidaymakers across the Harborough area are feared to have been hit by the catastrophic collapse of Thomas Cook.
They are among a staggering 165,000 travellers left stranded abroad after the travel giant – founded by Cook in Market Harborough in 1841 – went bust earlier this week.
The 178-year-old company’s massive meltdown has also spelled disaster for some customers of First Choice and Tui – which has a store in Harborough town centre.
Worldwide tourism operator Tui today said it had been forced to scrap all holidays using Thomas Cook flights for people set to fly out before October 31.
A TUI UK spokesman said: “We really feel for everyone affected by the collapse of Thomas Cook.
“We offer a small selection of TUI holidays featuring Thomas Cook flights, as well as a small number of Thomas Cook holidays through our stores.
“We are now working alongside the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to assist affected customers and help them to find alternative holidays or organise cancellations and full refunds.”
He added: “We’ve unfortunately had to cancel TUI and First Choice bookings featuring Thomas Cook flights for any customers due to travel before 31st October.
“Customers can call us on 0800 009 3833 or 0203 636 1994 to discuss their upcoming holiday booking.
“We are working hard to help affected customers find alternative holidays, so we will do everything we can to help in these extraordinary circumstances.
“For customers currently on holiday and due to fly home on a Thomas Cook flight, our teams in resort will be in touch to update you as more information becomes available.
“We would advise customers continue to enjoy their holidays and visit https://thomascook.caa.co.uk/ for further updates.”
The devastating bombshell has been dropped as shocked PR copywriter Alex Dawson, of Harborough, said he’s now lost his Thomas Cook family break to Cyprus next month.
Mr Dawson said: "My wife Denise and I had a week's holiday booked next month on Cyprus with Thomas Cook.
“Obviously we've lost the holiday. “We're hopeful we'll get the money back, but it will take time.”
The dad-of-two added: “Meanwhile, similar holidays to the one we'd booked have doubled in price, so a straight replacement is impossible, unless you can afford to pay well over the odds for a new holiday before you get your original holiday money back.”
Thomas Cook has collapsed, leaving tens of thousands facing chaos, almost two centuries after the man himself launched his travel trailblazer in Harborough at the height of Victorian Britain.
The tee-total cabinet-maker had his brainwave as he walked from his home in Adam and Eve Street to Leicester to attend an anti-drink Temperance meeting in 1841.
Former Baptist preacher Cook later recalled: “From my residence at Market Harborough I walked 15 miles to Leicester to attend a meeting and a thought flashed through my brain.
“What a glorious thing it would be if the newly-developed powers of railways could be made subservient to the promotion of Temperance.”
The ingenious pioneer approached John Fox Bell, secretary of Midland Counties Railway, who agreed to hire out a train and Thomas set about advertising his “excursion”.
On July 5, 1841, the world’s first chartered train journey took 500 teetotallers from Leicester to Loughborough for a shilling each – and the world’s first travel operation was born.
Ambitious entrepreneur Cook moved to Leicester with his wife Marianne and young family later that year to begin forging his new holiday empire.
But a plaque now stands marking where the travel business legend lived in Quaker’s Yard off Adam and Eve Street in Harborough.
Anyone who has been affected by the collapse of Thomas Cook can contact Harborough Mail reporter Red Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org
David Johnson, chairman of Harborough Historical Society, said: “Thomas Cook would be turning in his grave if he knew what was happening to the company he founded and loved.
“He was a morally upright man who believed in doing his absolute best for his customers.
“Cook was totally professional, honest and conscientious and customer service meant everything to him.
“So he’d be mortified if he could see the way his world-famous company has been run down and allowed to collapse.
“It’s an absolute shambles.”
Mr Johnson said Cook was arguably Harborough’s most celebrated resident.
“He’s obviously one of the most famous people to have ever lived here in the town.
“Thomas stayed here for eight or nine years and we are very proud of his association with Harborough,” he said.
“He was a genuine pioneer, revolutionising the world of travel, and we are proud that he had the idea while he lived here.”