MUNICH/HANNOVER (dpa-AFX) - Following the bankruptcy of Europe's third-largest tour operator FTI, the industry is expecting a reorganization of the market. "People will travel despite the FTI insolvency and the billion-dollar cake will be divided among the other tour operators," tourism expert Torsten Kirstges from the Jade University of Applied Sciences in Wilhelmshaven is certain. Competitors such as Tui and DER Touristik could benefit from this. Overall, the travel market is in a good position.

The first competitors are already positioning themselves: Europe's largest tour operator, Tui, has announced that it is expanding its own offering and is courting its competitor's customers with discounts and a temporary waiver of advance payments. "We will increase our contingents," reports a Tui spokesperson. The company wants to increase both hotel beds and flight seats and take over capacities from its insolvent competitor. "The capacities are now becoming available." The first hoteliers who were previously under contract with FTI have already enquired with Tui, according to the spokesperson.

Industry works on damage limitation

Europe's third-largest travel group filed for insolvency at Munich Local Court on Monday. For the industry, it is the biggest setback since the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook in 2019. "It is important that the other providers now ensure that trust is restored," emphasized the Tui spokesperson. Unlike Thomas Cook, however, there is now the German Travel Security Fund, which covers defaults. Holidaymakers can therefore expect their payments for package tours to be refunded.

Unlike FTI, Tui and the industry runner-up DER Touristik have now digested the coronavirus pandemic and are benefiting from Germans' renewed desire to travel. In the past financial year, both groups reported a significant increase in bookings and growth in sales and profits. Tui CEO Sebastian Ebel is confident of further growth this year. Bookings for the summer are already well above the previous year's level. "Holiday travel is still a high priority for our customers. This is more stable than we would have thought," says Ebel.

New FTI customers could now provide a further boost. "Even though we have already made a promising start to the summer, we will be putting together additional attractive offers with the hoteliers in the destinations over the next few days," emphasizes Tui Germany CEO Stefan Baumert. The program will specifically include regions where FTI has been strong so far, such as Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Cruises are booming

Overall, experts believe that the industry is doing well again. Debt and bank loans from the coronavirus crisis are putting pressure on the industry, says expert Kirstges. "But people are traveling a lot, high-priced trips are the trend, cruises are booming again." Tui recently reported that its own ships were almost fully booked for the summer. Customers are also spending more money on vacations again.

The fact that FTI is now at the end of its tether is also due to its business model. "FTI was rather price-aggressive and earned relatively little per trip with a comparatively weak equity base," explains Kirstges. The travel bans during the coronavirus pandemic in particular ultimately caused the company great difficulties.

The travel restrictions during the pandemic had hit the entire industry hard. Tui and FTI had to be bailed out by the state with billions. Unlike FTI, the listed Tui Group has since been able to repay the state aid thanks to an increase in capital. The travel group DER Touristik, which is backed by the financially strong retail giant Rewe, managed without state aid. At FTI, repayment of the majority of the almost 600 million euros in state aid was still outstanding.

65,000 holidaymakers affected

It was reported in the industry that around 65,000 holidaymakers were currently traveling abroad with FTI. "It is now clear that we have learned the right lessons from the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook in 2019 and have created a sensible instrument with the travel security fund," says Stefan Schmidt, tourism policy spokesman for the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen parliamentary group in the Bundestag. "I am therefore confident that we will manage the bankruptcy better than the last major bankruptcy in the tourism industry in 2019."

The federal government rejected further state aid for FTI on Monday. "From the taxpayer's point of view, it is right that FTI is not being rescued," emphasized FDP member of parliament Tim Wagner, who is a member of the Tourism Committee. "The company had been struggling for some time." Other tour operators would have managed on their own. "The fact that FTI has not managed to recover despite a high turnover and a good order situation is also an indication of a flawed concept with a questionable pricing policy."

Many FTI holidaymakers in Greece are affected. "According to FTI, there are currently 7500 tourists in around 250 hotels in the country," reports Yannis Hatzis, President of the Greek Hotel Association, on the platform X (formerly Twitter). According to Greek media reports, FTI owes the hotels payments of around 1.8 million euros. This is nothing compared to the insolvency of Thomas Cook in 2019 - at that time, the outstanding payments to the hotels amounted to around 200 million euros./fjo/DP/jha