Hays Travel plans to have a cruise expert in every store within its expanded retail network of nearly 700 branches by early summer.

The agency said the move was inspired by former Thomas Cook managers who have joined Hays, which took on all 553 leases of the collapsed travel giant’s shops.

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The move was spearheaded by group head of commercial and cruise Jonathon Woodall and new head of cruise Catriona Parsons, who joined Hays in September. Parsons, who spent 13 years at Barrhead Travel and briefly left the industry before joining Hays, also hopes to add five new commercial and product roles to her nine-strong cruise team, which is currently focused on partnerships.

She said Hays was in the process of becoming “a big juggernaut”, adding: “We’re going to give the [cruise] suppliers the attention they deserve. There are 115 ships on order, so cruise is going to be a big part of the Hays business going forward. We want to make Hays Travel the first place you think of to book a cruise.”

Parsons hopes all the cruise experts will be in place by April or May, and said they would require knowledge of all the major lines and their products. Cruise experts will be asked to communicate with customers via email or bite-sized videos, and to “engage” with customers after they have booked.

“[Cruise] customers are booking earlier,” Woodall said. “We want to talk them through their journey. We get them excited at the point of booking, but then we do not talk to them until they pay the full balance.

“It must be daunting not knowing the dress code or how to book a speciality restaurant. I think [our plan] will lead to repeat bookings.”

Woodall said he admired Cook’s ‘cruise experts’ model. “We want to learn from that,” he said. “Thomas Cook did a lot of things well.”

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