A NATIONAL travel agency based in Bournemouth had staff answering calls at 5am yesterday as hundreds of people sought advice following the collapse of Thomas Cook.

Not Just Travel has 750 independent travel consultants around the country and around 45 employees dealing with the public at its HQ at Bournemouth Airport.

Thomas Cook fell into administration in the early hours of Monday morning, putting 9,000 jobs at risk in the UK and 22,000 worldwide.

Co-founder Steve Witt said: “We had people coming in at three in the morning.

“Our phones started ringing about 5am and they’ve been going non-stop ever since.”

Not Just Travel works with around 450 brands including Thomas Cook.

As well as its own customers, Mr Witt said Not Just Travel was helping many passengers who booked Thomas Cook flights or accommodation through other companies online. In some cases, customers could not remember which companies they booked through.

“They know they’ve lost their holiday but they don’t know what to do next and for the average customer, they don’t know what to do and where to turn. The Civil Aviation Authority process can be daunting if you don’t know what to look for,” he said.

“They want help and they don’t know who to turn to. Because we’ve been quite proactive in getting information out to our customers on social media and on our website, they’re turning to us.”

Mr Witt said Not Just Travel had stepped up planning with its staff last week, when it became clear that Thomas Cook was in danger of collapse.

“They were all briefed and trained and we did webinars with them first thing on Monday morning to get them all up to speed, to make sure they were fully equipped with information,” he said.

He said the problems of Thomas Cook did not necessarily mean that high street travel agencies did not have a future.

“There are 500 high street stores across the country that will be affected, which is a shame because a lot of those stores were profitable,” he said.

He said many people still liked to “do business with people” and many preferred the advice of industry experts, especially when planning “trips of a lifetime”.

“Whether it’s the high street or person-to-person in a business similar to what we do, I think that will grow and strengthen,” he said.

“Something like 62 per cent of all travel is not available to buy online. It’s all those things such as the wider choice of hotels and a lot of the extras people look forward to on their holidays.”

Hays Travel is the biggest travel agency on the high street following Thomas Cook’s collapse. The independent chain bought Bournemouth-based Bath Travel in 2013.

Mr Witt said Thomas Cook’s problems could make more people more inclined to use a travel agent rather than less.

“Many more people will now see the benefit of ATOL protection, and booking a package holiday compared to doing it yourself and saving a few pounds. It’s the difference between being stranded abroad and being brought back home efficiently and at no extra cost,” he said.

Thomas Cook collapse

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