Hundreds of thousands of travelers were stranded across the world Monday after British tour company Thomas Cook collapsed, immediately halting almost all its flights and hotel services and laying off all its employees.
Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority confirmed Thomas Cook, a 178-year-old company that helped create the package tour industry, had ceased trading. It said the firm’s four airlines will be grounded, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries – including 9,000 in the U.K. – will lose their jobs.
The collapse of the firm will have sweeping effects across the entire European and North African tourism industry and elsewhere, as hotels worried about being paid and confirmed bookings for high-season winter resorts were suddenly in doubt.
Overall, about 600,000 people were traveling with the company as of Sunday, though it was unclear how many of them would be left stranded, as some travel subsidiaries were in talks with local authorities to continue operating.
The British government said it was taking charge of getting the firm’s 150,000 U.K.-based customers back home from vacation spots across the globe, the largest repatriation effort in the country’s peacetime history. The process began Monday and officials warned of delays.