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Holidaymakers kept inside Tunisia hotel over unpaid bill fears

<span>Photograph: Anis Mili/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anis Mili/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas Cook customers in Tunisia have been involved in a standoff with a hotel owner who barricaded holidaymakers inside a resort due to fears that the struggling holiday firm would not be able to pay bills.

Guests at the Orangers hotel in the coastal town of Hammamet spoke of being locked inside their resort on Saturday until a 6,000 Tunisian dinar (£1,680) fee was paid before they were allowed to leave for their flight, or even to visit a shop.

Those buses that arrived to transport holidaymakers to the airport at Enfidha were turned away by security, Orangers guests told the Guardian.

Thomas Cook customers Maddie Clamp, 26, and her boyfriend, Shaun Holmes, 30, from Derby described how they had been locked within their holiday complex as management, apparently wrong-footed by the news of the travel giant’s financial troubles, tried to secure payment from their guests.

“They wouldn’t even let us out of the hotel,” Holmes said. “The Thomas Cook rep said he’d contacted the chief of police [about their situation].”

However, by Sunday the standoff had been resolved and guests were allowed to leave.

Related: Thomas Cook travellers still boarding as clock ticks down on talks

Holidaymakers said a local representative from Thomas Cook had worked late into the night before returning on Sunday morning to again deal with guests’ urgent queries. The company said on Sunday any guests who had paid the hotel had been refunded.

“We are aware that a small number of customers were asked to pay for their hotel room before leaving Les Orangers in Tunisia [on Saturday]. This has now been resolved and customers flew home as planned. We continue to support our customers in all our resorts,” said a Thomas Cook spokesperson.

Lynn and Peter Taylor from Newcastle, who had travelled to Tunisia with Thomas Cook, said guests leaving the hotel had been asked for extra payment.

“Those who were due to leave today had letters slipped under their door,” said Lynn Taylor. “The hotel was asking for 6,000 TD. I think one old lady paid it. We’re not.”

The hotel declined to comment or provide any details of communication between the hotel and Thomas Cook, speaking only to confirm that guests were now free to enter and leave the hotel.

Tourism in Tunisia continues to recover from two devastating terror attacks that all but destroyed the industry in 2015, including the mass killing of predominantly British tourists at the Hotel Rui Imperial Marhaba near Souse.

Tourism from the UK, a very lucrative line for Tunisia’s struggling economy, was particularly badly hit, with a government travel warning in place over visiting the North African country running from June 2015 until July 2017. Thomas Cook had been among the first to return to Tunisia, announcing the resumption of flights in February 2018.

The British consulate in Tunis said it was aware of the situation and providing what assistance it could.

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