Hays Travel founder dies at work

The founder of Hays Travel, the family business that saved thousands of jobs when it bought Thomas Cook’s shops, has died.

John Hays, who founded the UK’s largest independent travel agent and expanded it with his wife Irene, collapsed at the company’s Sunderland headquarters on Friday. He was 71 years old.

“It is with the deepest sadness and regret that we have to announce that John Hays, the founder and managing director of Hays Travel died today, while doing the job he loved,” the company said. “He was held in immense respect by his staff, colleagues, family and friends.”

Hays Travel bought the majority of Thomas Cook’s retail estate last year after the world’s oldest travel company fell into liquidation, saving more than 2,000 jobs.

In August, however, it was forced to cut just under 900 jobs, or almost 20 per cent of its workforce, after the government declared that tourists returning from Spain would have to quarantine, derailing the company’s path to recovery from the pandemic.

Mr and Mrs Hays at the time said they were “devastated” about the job losses.

Hays Travel launched in 1980, at the back of Mr Hays’ mother’s shop in Seaham. Two years later, the business opened its first travel agent shop in Sunderland, where the company would later be based.

Sunderland council leader Graeme Miller paid tribute to Mr Hays, who was a former vice-chairman of Sunderland football club and a freeman of the city, saying he “remained very true to his roots and his community responsibilities”.

The group had 650 shops in the UK and employed roughly 4,500 people before the redundancies announced in August. It made a pre-tax profit of £3.4m in the year ending October 2019, on gross sales of more than £1bn.

Mr Hays was an Oxford mathematics graduate, who later gained an MBA from Manchester Business School.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, the travel association, said: “We were shocked and saddened to hear that John Hays has passed away.

“John was a major figure in the travel industry over many years, and created one of the industry’s most successful companies. Our thoughts and sympathies are with his wife Irene and his family, colleagues and friends at this very sad time.”

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