Agents say the loss of coach holiday operators Shearings and National Holidays will be a “great shame” that will be a blow to bookings for the over-50s and domestic markets.

The trade-friendly coach operators ceased trading as parent company Specialist Leisure Group went into administration on Friday.

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Joanne Stewart, of Hays Travel in Dundee, said: “So sad to hear this devastating news, I’ve booked many a customer on a Shearings break over the years. Really feel for the staff at Shearings and their sister companies. I went through this last year as a former employee of Thomas Cook and know how devastated they will be.”

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Gay Borland, of Waltham Abbey Travel in Essex, said Shearings was popular with groups such as the British Legion and U3A and was a “lifeline” for some older customers. “It’s a huge loss for the groups market,” she said.

“We’ve done so many bookings with them over the years – and we used to join our customers on the trips sometimes, we’d call it the ‘party bus’.

“They had a local pick-up, which the older customers loved. Some people would book without knowing where they were going because they wanted to go away with their friends. It was a lifeline for the older generation because they made such great friends through the group tours.

“At our peak of selling Shearings we were booking 1,000 heads a year as a small agency, we called it our bread and butter. It was so upsetting ringing round people to tell them the news.

Graeme Brett, owner of Westoe Travel in South Shields, had more than 100 customers with forward bookings, most with National Holidays which was the biggest of the group’s brands in the northeast.

He and his team spent Tuesday “knee-deep” in organising refunds, many of which to customers who had already rebooked or taken a refund credit note for holidays cancelled as a result of Covid-19.

“It a great shame, not only because it’s such a well-known brand in this area but because they’d modernised in recent years,” he said, noting that National Holidays had begun diversifying by selling theme park trips and excursions to see the Formula One at Silverstone.

“I hope somebody takes them over and reemploys some of the very good staff in a Phoenix from the flames situation,” he said.

Brett said the loss of Shearings was made worse by how soon it came after the failure of Super Break last year, and particularly with a predicted demand for domestic holidays as travel restrictions remain in place for all non-essential overseas travel.

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said: “We were very sad to hear the news of Shearings’ collapse last week.

“The brand was so loved by both the trade and its loyal customer following and they will certainly be missed. Our thoughts are with all of their employees during this very challenging time.

“We do have a number of bookings affected and we will be working to support our customers with claims over the coming weeks.”

Shearings offered holidays to 170 destinations in the UK, Europe and Worldwide, including coach tours, rail holidays and river cruises – serving 1.1 million customers a year.

Shearings: A brief history

1919: Shearings is founded in Oldham in 1919 by Herbert Shearing, although the roots of the business can be traced back to a haulage company called Webster Bros, founded in 1903, and a coach tours operation set up by James Smith in 1914 that offered trips from Wigan and Southport

1949: Herbert Shearing retires and two companies are formed: Shearings Tours (Manchester) Ltd and Shearings Tours (Oldham) Ltd. These are sold to James Robinson, owner of Happiway Tours, in 1953

1963: Shearings Tours are consolidated as Shearings Holidays

1964: The business is sold again and the coaches branded as Shearings-Pleasureways-Ribblesdale, shortened to Shearings Ribblesdale in 1979 and then to Shearings Holidays in 1982

1989: Mecca Leisure Group purchases Pleasurama and merges National Holidays with Shearings

1990: Mecca is taken over by The Rank Organisation, which sells Shearings Holidays to a management buyout in 1996, backed by Bridgepoint Capital

2005: Venture capital firm 3i, which owns travel agency Wallace Arnold, purchases a controlling stake in Shearings

2013: Shearings’ passenger numbers grow to a then-record 1.05 million, with sales of £195m and a profit before tax of £5.8m

2014: 3i and Indigo Capital sell the business for an undisclosed figure to a management team led by chief executive Denis Wormwell

2016: US investment company Lone Star Funds buys Shearings for an undisclosed sum

2017: Richard Calvert is appointed chief executive;
Shearings reports fourth successive year of record sales, profits and passenger numbers; Jane Atkins is appointed managing director of Shearings Holidays;
commercial director Caroline Brown leaves after 20 years with the business

2018: Shearings Leisure Group, the holding company for Shearings Holidays, Coast & Country Hotels, National Holidays and other brands, renames as Specialist Leisure Group

May 2020: Specialist Leisure Group goes into administration

MoreTrade urged to save Shearings name through crowdfunding appeal