philanthropist and retail hero John often recalled

how Hays’ customers in the early days had to wade through clothes to reach the counter

Since 2006, Hays Travel has been

included in The Sunday Times list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. In the trade, he won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2008 Agent Achievement Awards, an Outstanding Achievement Award at the 2009 Globe Travel Awards and was inaugurated into the British Travel Industry Hall of Fame in 2010. In an interview with Travel Weekly

that year, marking Hays Travel’s 30th anniversary, John said: “As long as we run a profitable business being an agent, we’ll stay in that territory.”

At that time, Hays had 37 shops,

300 homeworkers and three call centres – and there was no ambition for UK domination. “I’m relatively cautious by nature,” John insisted. Fast forward a decade, however,

and Hays Travel’s empire has expanded beyond belief. Seizing acquisition opportunities,

Hays bought Bath Travel’s 58 branches in 2013, expanding beyond its northeast heartlands and enjoying a period of unprecedented growth. The company had already

launched its own tour operation and apprenticeship academy in 2009, the latter demonstrating John’s belief that the company’s future was dependent on developing its young staff. He had earned a reputation as a philanthropist, making support of charities central to his company’s ethos – and launched the Hays Travel

Foundation in 2015. Each branch is given £500 a year to spend on community partnerships. By 2018, Hays Travel reached

the £1 billion annual sales milestone, and John marked the occasion by giving each staff member £100 per year employed, totalling £1 million in bonuses. The firm’s most famous deal,

however, was the acquisition of the collapsed Thomas Cook’s 553 shops in 2019, which saved 2,300 staff from redundancy. The move put John and wife

Irene on the front pages of national newspapers – they were dubbed “heroes of the high street” – and created the country’s largest travel agency chain as its shop count of 743 surpassed Tui’s. By his own admission, the deal presented “lots of challenges” as

the brands and teams were merged, but at the start of this year John revealed most ex-Cook shops were making a profit. The company, now with about 650 shops, was targeting £2 billion in annual sales for 2020. For the first time, Hays was forced

to make job cuts during Covid, but John’s optimism for the future was clear with a further acquisition, of Tailor Made Travel, this September. He also saw opportunities to

expand Hays’ tour operation by acquiring Travel 2’s Glasgow office, keeping about 100 staff in work. There can be no doubt John

was a canny businessman, a savvy entreprenuer and a much-loved industry personality. Put simply, he was also one of the industry’s most successful travel agents, who died doing the job he loved. By Juliet Dennis

Shelley Sheward “All of us at the Hays Travel family are in

complete and utter shock. John was a man who loved what he did until the end and had kept us all in great spirits over the last months.”

Lisa Ramsay “I’m heartbroken that our lovely boss has passed. What a

lovely, lovely man. Condolences to Irene and to all of his family and our extended Hays family.”


A charity fundraising page set up in John Hays’ honour had raised £17,304 as T

ravel Weekly went to press on Tuesday, despite a request for donations to be capped at £5. Money raised will go to the Hays Travel Foundation, which was set up by John and Irene Hays in 2015 and has since donated more than £950,000 to good causes with a focus on young people. Irene Hays requested that donations should be no more than £5 and described the foundation as “one of John’s proudest achievements”. To donate, visit

19 NOVEMBER 2020


PICTURE: Steve Dunlop

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