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Up to 2,500 jobs saved as Hays Travel buys 555 Thomas Cook shops

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
People walk past a Thomas Cook shop in London. Hays Travel will acquire over 500 of the closed operator's stores. Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

In a move that will provide employment opportunities for up to 2,500 Thomas Cook (TCG.L) employees who lost their jobs, Hays Travel will buy all of the failed travel operator’s shops in the UK for an undisclosed sum.

Hays Travel, which is the country’s largest independent travel agent, will take control of 555 stores, and has already hired over 400 former Thomas Cook staff, the government Insolvency Service said on Wednesday.

“This is an extremely positive outcome, and we are delighted to have secured this agreement,” said Jim Tucker, a KPMG partner.

“It provides re-employment opportunities for a significant number of former Thomas Cook employees, and secures the future of retail sites up and down the UK high street.”

Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel operator, collapsed into administration in September, leaving 150,000 holidaymakers stranded and putting 9,000 jobs in the UK at risk.

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Some 2,500 jobs from the company’s retail division could be saved as part of the sale to Hays Travel.

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority this week concluded the biggest-ever peacetime repatriation of British people, which saw the government charter over 700 flights to bring the holidaymakers home.

John and Irene Hays, the couple who run Hays Travel, said they were looking forward to working with former Thomas Cook staff.

“Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand employing talented people,” they said.

Hays Travel also runs a consortium of independent travel agents, as well as Just Go Travel, a subsidiary that primarily operates in the North West of England.

The firm was founded in 1980 in Durham, and rapidly expanded across the UK in the 1990s. In the 12 months to the end of October 2018, the company hit £1bn in revenue for the first time.

Operating profits fell slightly compared to the previous year, to £9m, largely due to £570,000 in bonuses paid out to employees when the firm reached the £1bn mark.

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Hays Travel is one of the top 100 mid-size UK firms to work for, according to a Sunday Times listing. In February, it rose from 91st to 74th place.

Dave Chapman, the official receiver appointed by the Insolvency Service, said that the acquisition represented “an important step” in Thomas Cook’s liquidation process.

“We are pleased to have achieved this in a short time frame and in the context of a complex liquidation process, which is testament to a lot of hard work from a number of parties,” said Tucker, who was appointed joint special manager of Thomas Cook’s retail division.

The acquisition will be a boost to the high street, where bricks-and-mortar retailers have found it increasingly difficult to compete with their online counterparts.