Hays Travel has agreed a deal to buy all 555 Thomas Cook stores in the UK, saying its expansion could lead to 2,500 jobs being saved.

Hays, the country’s largest independent travel agent, told Sky News it had already taken on 494 ex-Thomas Cook employees and job offers were pending for many more.

There were 9,000 staff in the UK who lost out when the company collapsed last month – prompting the country’s biggest peacetime repatriation exercise to recover more than 150,000 holidaymakers stranded abroad.

Thomas Cook passengers queueing at Son Sant Joan airport in Majorca
‘Stress tests’ to prevent another Thomas Cook.

That exercise was completed on Monday.

Hays said more than 100 of the new jobs would be based at its Sunderland headquarters, with the rest in shops across the UK.

The company said it was hoping to reopen many sites immediately.

The Official Receiver’s statement said the property deal, for an undisclosed sum, provided opportunities for a “significant number” of former Thomas Cook workers.

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David Chapman said: “I am pleased to announce we have reached an agreement with Hays Travel to acquire Thomas Cook’s entire UK retail estate, comprising 555 stores across the country.

“This represents an important step in the liquidation process, as we seek to realise the company’s assets.”

The news will be seen as a lift for the UK’s high streets as a crisis of consumer confidence combines with surging costs to hurt store-focused retailers.

Hays Travel
Image: Hays Travel currently operates from just under 200 stores and online

Thomas Cook’s demise also reignited fears for the wider travel market as airlines engage in a price war at a time of dented demand and higher fuel costs.

Hays also runs the Hays Travel Independence Group, a consortium of independent travel agents.

The company’s brands include Just Go Travel which trades under the Hays Travel name predominantly across the North West of England.

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Its has a current UK store estate of 190 shops and employs 1,900 staff.

Irene Hays, group chair of Hays Travel Limited, said: “Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand and a pillar of the UK and the global travel industry.

“We will build on the good things Thomas Cook had – not least its people – and that will put us in even better stead for the future.

“We all share a passion for the travel industry and we want to continue to build the company’s reputation for first class service and being a great place to work and develop a career.”

Jim Tucker, Partner at services firm KPMG and joint special manager of Thomas Cook’s Retail division, said of the deal: “Over the weeks ahead, we will work closely with Hays Travel and landlords to ensure a smooth transition of the store estate.”

The Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom also welcomed the deal by saying: “Thomas Cook’s collapse has been a hugely distressing time for thousands who have lost their jobs and those had their holidays so badly affected.

“I welcome the news that Hays Travel will be purchasing Thomas Cook’s real estate, and hope this will provide significant re-employment opportunities for former Thomas Cook employees, alongside the advice and support we will continue to provide to help people find a new job as quickly as possible.”

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