John Hays, the founder of the UK’s largest travel agency Hays Travel, has died.

Hays, who was 71, founded the business in 1980 as a travel agency in the back of his mother’s clothes shop in Seaham, Durham, and grew Hays Travel into the largest independent travel agency in the country with close to 200 branches. The business reached the milestone of £1 billion annual turnover in 2018.

Last year Hays Travel acquired the entire retail estate from Thomas Cook, making it larger than Tui and becoming the biggest travel agency in the UK. It now has more than 650 branches.

Hays also founded travel agency consortium Hays Independence Group in 1995, which has grown to have more than 100 independent travel agency members.


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Hays was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Travel Weekly Agent Achievement Awards in 2008 and followed it up by being awarded the Outstanding Achievement Awards at the Globe Travel Awards in 2009.

Outside of travel, he was well-known in the northeast of England for his philanthropy and was a former vice-chairman of football club Sunderland AFC.

Hays had a degree in maths from Oxford University and an MBA from Manchester Business School.

Hays Travel confirmed the news.

A statement from the company said: “It is with the deepest sadness and regret that we have to announce that John Hays, the founder and managing director of Hays Travel died today, while doing the job he loved.

“John, who with his wife and co-owner Irene Hays bought the Thomas Cook retail estate a year ago, was at work in the company’s Sunderland Head Office when he collapsed.

“John built Hays Travel into the UK’s largest independent travel agent providing jobs and careers for thousands of young people over 40 years.

“Throughout this past difficult year he did everything in his power to save jobs and protect the travel industry.

“He was held in immense respect by his staff, colleagues, family and friends and was recognised throughout his life for his many achievements.

“He was equally proud of his loyal staff who, under the direction of the board and senior management team, will ensure that the business continues to serve the customers of the UK’s largest independent travel agent as he would have wanted.”

MoreTravel industry pays tribute to John Hays

Comment: The travel industry is a poorer place without John Hays