Buying a travel agency chain at the same time as making large scale redundancies could give “mixed messages” to staff, the owners of Hays Travel have accepted.

The company recently acquired 20-branch miniple Tailor Made Travel and told Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel conference it remained open to further acquisition opportunities.

The acquisition followed the start of consultations in August with 878 staff, including 344 trainee travel consultants and 534 members of foreign exchange staff.

Staff under consultation have told Travel Weekly they have raised formal grievances with Hays Travel over making acquisitions at the same time as making job cuts.

They said the Tailor Made Travel deal, which followed confirmation of plans to open an office in Glasgow for its in-house tour operation and the opening of a new shop in Scotland, was “the last straw”.

Owners John and Irene Hays said they understood why staff facing potential redundancy could be confused by the group’s strategy.

Joint owner Irene Hays said the roles at risk were in specific “pools” of job categories directly affected by the pandemic, but she admitted: “The timing of these things sometimes isn’t ideal.”

She said the pair were “obviously very sad” about the redundancies.

“We have a great deal of sympathy but these are different categories of staff,” she said. “In 40 years we have never had to do redundancies on such a scale.

“We understand why that could look like mixed messages but we are very clear about the pools of staff under consultation.

“Where we have gaps for experienced, qualified travel consultants we will seek to replace those. In the case of Tailor Made Travel, they are experienced travel consultants.

“We can totally see that it looks like we are acquiring people from here and losing people from here but it’s pools of people.”

Joint owner John Hays said foreign exchange was an important part of the agency’s business, which has always prided itself on employing dedicated foreign exchange staff, who are not trained as travel sales consultants.

But he said: “If only 20% of people are taking a holiday then foreign exchange will only be 20% of what it would normally be.”

Sales consultants are being trained to handle foreign exchange and many are already ‘dual-skilled’, he added.

Meanwhile, Irene Hays said the company would consider further acquisitions if “it’s a good fit and financially it works for us.”