Collapse of tourist board threatens holiday bookings

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HUNDREDS OF holidaymakers face disruption of their arrangements and the loss of cash deposits following the collapse of the Thames and Chilterns Tourist Board.

It operated a subsidiary called Cottage in the Country which sold self-catering holidays in rural parts of the Thames valley. This month, landlords letting through Cottage in the Country have not been paid in advance as they have in the past. An answerphone message at the company tells callers that the office is unattended.

Peter Clarke, who has a flat near Wallingford in Oxfordshire, which he lets through Cottage in the Country, had to ask tenants arriving from Spain to pay an advance direct to him, although they had already paid an advance to the company. The family concerned did not have holiday insurance because the company says in its brochure that it is unable to offer such insurance to people living abroad.

Michael O'Dwyer, a hotel director who is unpaid chairman of Thames and Chilterns Tourist Board, said: 'The future of Cottage in the Country is now in the hands of Smith and Williamson, insolvency practitioners. How any funds left in the system are distributed will be decided by them.'

Mr O'Dwyer said that Thames and Chilterns Tourist Board had got into difficulties because the number of members, who pay subscriptions to finance tourist publicity, had declined from 800 last year to 700 this year. The board had to pay costs of pounds 27,000 when it lost litigation with a printer and also had to write off substantial bad debts.

'There was financial imprudence,' said Mr O'Dwyer, who, until the crisis came, met with the board's council only four times a year to decide policy.

'When income goes down as it has done, labour costs should have been reduced but they were not. There was a staff of 42 - costs were huge. I expect the board will now be wound up. There is no alternative.'

The English Tourist Board said other local tourist boards were not at risk.

Thames and Chilterns was the only one in England to operate its own travel company.