The owners of Hays Travel have insisted they have an “open door” for staff facing redundancy to return when demand for holidays comes back.

Speaking to Travel Weekly the day after consultations began with 878 staff, John and Irene Hays sent a message to staff saying it was “not their fault”.

Irene Hays said telling staff, over two separate Zoom calls – one for 344 trainee travel consultants, and one for the 534 members of foreign exchange staff affected – was “really hard”.

She described the situation as a “tragedy” for the business, which has never made more than 10 redundancies in one go in its 40-year history.

John Hays explained that trainee consultants were part of the consultation ahead of experienced agents because many had not had chance to complete their training.

He added: “We didn’t have enough staff after we took on Thomas Cook. We took on people for our Travel Academy programme from January, before the crisis, and these people haven’t yet completed their training.

“In the current circumstances, we want the most experienced travel consultants available to look after our customers.”

He explained that the lack of immediate demand for this summer – particularly after the government advised against all but essential travel to Spain – had hampered demand for foreign exchange, and noted that many experiences Hays agents are trained to fill in on that position.

“Obviously less people are travelling,” said Hays. “So our foreign exchange figures are currently very low, a fraction of normal levels.”

Asked if staff may be re-employed when demand returns, he said: “We very much have an open door. These people have done nothing wrong. It’s just this unfortunate, awful time. We would always leave the door open [for staff to return].”

Asked about the likelihood of job shares or part time roles to save jobs, Hays said “the point of this consultation is to look at all of those things”. “We will keep our options open,” he added.

Plans to open a Glasgow office to service its in-house tour operator are also still in the pipeline. Irene Hays said: “Lockdown gave us an opportunity to look at the Hays Travel business model, and we have had fundamental success with our Piece of Mind Guarantee, which gave us food for thought in terms of which parts of the business we would like to grow in the future.”

The Hays defended the recruitment drive they launched in June, despite launching the consultation within two months, and said discussion over potential shops closures was “not part of this consultation”.

Irene Hays reiterated that the government’s decision to advice against all but essential travel to Spain and enforce quarantine on returning Brits led to the cuts.

“It’s a tragedy,” she said. “When they opened the air bridges [on July 11], there was a surprising number of people wanting to go on holiday this summer. We saw a sense of progression before it got to that Saturday [July 25, when the government changed its advice for Spain]. It was nowhere near our targets, or in comparison to last year, but it was steadily improving – especially for new bookings.”

Hays reiterated that the consultation does not include apprentices, experienced travel consultants, or head office staff.