Thousands of Thomas Cook jobs could be saved as Hays Travel buys 555 high street stores

  • Video report by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi

Thousands of former Thomas Cook employees may be back in employment after Hays Travel agreed to buy 555 high street shops from the collapsed airline.

Hays has already recruited 595 former Thomas Cook staff and managing director John Hays said he will welcome "as many as possible".

Up to 2,500 jobs could be saved after the UK's largest independent travel agents bought the shops.

Mr Hays said he intends to open a "good percentage" of shops on Thursday, and will be looking to open the others as soon as possible.

Mr Hays said: "We will need to talk to the landlords, which we've started already. We're expecting very positive outcomes."

Jim Tucker, a KPMG partner who was appointed joint special manager of Thomas Cook's retail division following the airline's collapse, said it was an "extremely positive outcome".

He added: "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."

The 178-year-old travel company folded on September 23 after failing to secure a last-minute rescue deal.

The news left around 150,000 passengers stranded abroad, the last of whom were returned to the UK on Monday.

John and Irene Hays, managing director and group chairwoman of Hays Travel, said: "Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand employing talented people. We look forward to working with many of them."

Mr and Ms Hays posted a video on their YouTube page welcoming the new staff.

He said: "Thousands of really capable people who had done nothing wrong lost their jobs.

"Also we can hold our heads up at Hays Travel as we supported Thomas Cook right to the end. They were great partners of ours."

He added: "I'm proud to say that we've acquired the whole retail estate of Thomas Cook, 550 shops and over a billion pounds worth of sales.

"There's a lot of work ahead and I hope you'll welcome our new colleagues from Thomas Cook."

Ms Hays said the firm had made offers to 596 Thomas Cook staff and they've had more than 400 accepted job offers.

Mr Tucker said the administrators would work with Hays to "ensure a smooth transition of the store estate".

He added: "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."

Who are Hays Travel?

The travel agent describes themselves as the largest independent travel agent chain in the UK and has its headquarters in Sunderland.

The travel agent uses other tour operators to sell holidays to customers, including Jet2 and TUI in the UK.

It claims to have an annual turnover of more than £1 billion and employs more than 1,700.

The purchase of Thomas Cook stores will see a marked increase in its high street presence.

According to the firm's website, it has more than 180 retail shops and more than 240 travel agents who work from home.

Consumer Editor Chris Choi explains who the couple are at the heart of the Thomas Cook deal

John and Irene Hays now head a billion pound travel firm but remain faithful to their more humble roots. At seven minutes to midnight last night they finalised the deal to buy Thomas Cook's 555 shops - they celebrated this morning with a breakfast at Greggs.

Reaching the deal meant many late nights at the company's HQ in Sunderland, and John Hays says he spent a lot of time on the sofas there.

Although they started small, they are used to the big league - it was six years ago (to the exact day) that they doubled in size by taking over a cruise firm - now they will double in size again.

They both feel very emotional about the Thomas Cook staff and spoke of tears and cuddles when offering positions to the redundant workers.

They say they have "lovely staff" and are confident they can now offer work to "the vast majority" of Thomas Cooks 2500 retail staff.

The wealth Hays Travel is getting from Thomas Cook? People, writes Chris Choi

Hays currently has 1,900 employees. Now it will sign up as many as 2,500 from the Thomas Cook network.

Hays' move is already being seen as smart by insiders. It quickly realised that Thomas Cook's big problem was not its store chain - but its high levels of company debt.

The founders of Hays, John and Irene, also understand the great value of expertise.

Read more of Chris Choi's analysis here.