A friend of mine, not connected to travel in any way, asked me out of the blue this week: “Do you know John and Irene Hays?”
She had seen them on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, being interviewed about buying the licence to occupy 555 Thomas Cook stores around the UK, and she was almost starstruck when I said I’d known the couple for more than 20 years.
Dubbed the “heroes of the high street” for resurrecting closed agencies and re-employing thousands of staff, the pair brought a real feelgood factor to our TV screens and made Hays Travel not just a household name with my friend – but most of the UK.
Of course, Hays is unlikely to end up with the leases for all 555 stores, as some landlords may decide to rent their units to other retailers.
And it was great to see Midcounties and Barrhead among others not giving up after effectively being gazumped by the Hays Travel deal. Instead, it spurred both to reiterate their own expansion plans, which they are still hoping to accelerate by snapping up some key Cook leases.
Regardless of how they get there, one thing is clear. Travel on the high street is alive and kicking…a trend that flies in the face of a statement made at the Web In Travel conference in Singapore this week. The boss of an Indian OTA predicted that “travel will become completely touchless by 2029 with no human intervention in the booking process”. That’s a pretty bold prediction given the week we’ve just seen.
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