Companies across the trade were celebrating their success this week following the Globe Travel Awards 2009.
The glittering ceremony at London's Grosvenor House Hotel on Tuesday night saw TV comedian Michael McIntyre present 48 awards to the most deserving businesses after 52,000 travel agents voted for their favourite suppliers.
John founded his own agency in the back of his mother's childrenswear shop in Seaham, County Durham, in 1980. Almost 30 years on he is head of the UK's largest independently owned agency, which has 34 shops in the northeast, call centres in Sunderland and Newcastle, as well as a homeworking division of more than 300 agents.
Hays was described during the event as the "beacon for the independent agent" who demonstrates creativity and ingenuity.
He said: "I am really moved, honoured and proud to collect this award for everyone who has supported me.
"Hays Travel has not been an overnight success. It has been 29 years since we started the business and we have come a long way since then."
The Innovation in Travel Award, judged by a panel of high-profile industry figures, was won by British Airways' ba.com iPhone application. It allows the airline to provide information to its customers on departure and check-in.
BA tour operator partners sales manager Paul Bristow said: "It's a tremendous accolade to be flagged up as the leading innovator in the industry. It's very unexpected."
Multiple award winners on the night included Emirates, Superbreak, Thomson Holidays and Kuoni.
Six consumer awards were also presented during the event. These were sponsored by Associated Newspapers.
Video: John Hays on the Outstanding Achievement award
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