Thomas Cook update inc. 2017 schedule
I’ve had a very open and frank discussion with Thomas Cook since I returned from the island last week. The discussion was delayed as the two key people were themselves out in the Aegean on fact finding visits to bring themselves up to date with the current situation, outlook for the rest of the 2016 season and looking ahead to the 2017 season.
They’ve outlined in detail to me their ongoing pressures that they are continuing to face, not only with Lesvos, but also other Aegean destinations, as a consequence of the refugee crisis.
They rightly point out that their business is also a victim of something which is way beyond anyone’s control, let alone their own. I have to agree with them here as I think its very easy for people to criticise large companies for not continuing running services, but, as anyone who runs a business will appreciate, a company can only absorb so much loss without having to make some changes. That apples to any business large or small.
Thomas Cook outlined the reasons to reduce its schedule for this year (a collapse in bookings to Lesvos and other Aegean islands), which when you see the numbers (which I am not at liberty to disclose) is fully understandable. But at least they continued to fly to the island (unlike many other European charter companies), and they have also committed to fly in 2017.
For 2017 they have told me that it is very unlikely that they will reinstate the lost April birding weeks flights. They can easily work out from these birding week flights who were birders and who were not, and they know that birder numbers were well down this year, in particular the 16 April flight which was far from full and was largely made up of aid workers with low tens of birders (this matched my own assessment from my own enquiries about this flight and I estimated the number of birders on it at no more than 30). So the reduction in capacity on the reduced schedule they operated to Lesvos this spring, aligned with increasing demand elsewhere, has led them to their decision to remove the early spring birding weeks from their schedule. Had these birding weeks flights all been filled with birders then things might have been different (but thats an unknown cos they weren’t full of birders).
They have a review of their 2017 schedule in July, but I’ve already been told that things would have to change significantly in a positive direction for them to change their schedule from that now advertised (and that is not predicted).
On a wider issue, they have been lobbying both in the UK and in Greece for government, tourism boards, local authorities, etc to be much more positive in their promotion of Lesvos and the other Aegean islands (but Lesvos in particular). TC are very critical of various agencies lack of support for a region which depends on tourism. This echoes conversations I had with many of those on the island who I spoke with this spring, in that they feel abandoned by their own authorities (they see all the help given to refugees but no help whatsoever for local peoples’ livelihoods). Mainstream media aside, TC are also critical of some of the negative social media coverage of Lesvos (not on our group, but on other groups and sites – they clearly monitor all these various media outlets very closely) which they feel really does detrimentally impact on interest for Lesvos and the region as a whole.
On an optimistic note, that say that they can be flexible and can pick things up quickly should they see significant change in interest/demand. They’re working hard to fill their planes this year and next, and if demand outstrips availability in 2017 it will be the signal for them to look to increase again from 2018. This is much more positive than I had expected – I thought it would be years before they would talk about rebuilding their schedule again.
We can all play a part in helping with increasing the interest. We can all post positive reviews of our spring 2016 trips on our own timelines (not just on here) and on other groups were this would be permitted. We can write reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor (a very important site for the individual traveller, hotels, resorts, tavernas and tour operators). We need to shout loud and proud that Lesvos remains safe, is as beautiful as ever and is open for business. If each of us do this on a couple of sites then it can help. Please don’t just say ‘it won’t help’ – do it anyway in the hope that it does – not for yourself, not for me, not for TC, but for all our friends on Lesvos whose livelihoods are on a knife-edge.
I will continue to talk with TC and they know that I will support them in any way I can to help them build their birding business back up on the island. I’m also talking to others, from journalists to local authorities, to see where I, and our Lesvos birding community, can help them retain what little tourism remains, and start building on it for 2017.