Tributes have poured in from across the travel industry for Hays Travel founder John Hays.

Hays, (pictured with wife Irene) managing director of the UK’s largest travel agency, passed away at the company’s Sunderland headquarters today, aged 71.

He grew the business from a single branch in the back of his mother’s clothes shop to the largest travel agency in the country over 40 years.


Comment: The travel industry is a poorer place today


Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, said: “We were shocked and saddened to hear that John Hays has passed away. John was a major figure in the travel industry over many years, and created one of the industry’s most successful companies. Our thoughts and sympathies are with his wife Irene and his family, colleagues and friends at this very sad time.”

Andy Cohen, Head of Atol at the CAA, said: ‘I’ve had the pleasure of knowing John for over 30 years. He was a man of integrity and a very successful businessman who loved the travel industry. I spent many hours over the years talking sport, travel and many other subjects with John, who would often offer me advice. He was always a pleasure to be around, and I know he will be missed by many.”

David Dingle, chairman of Carnival UK, said: “Such very sad news. We have lost a champion of people and a champion of the high street travel agent. John was an outstanding businessman but always knew when it was time to put people before profit. He stands as one of the greatest figures of the British travel industry, indeed the greatest I have known. My sympathies go out to Irene, his family and everyone at Hays Travel.”

Andrew Flintham, UK managing director of Tui, said: “We are saddened to hear of the passing of John Hays, and wish to send our deepest condolences to Irene, their family and everyone at Hays Travel. As a valued partner for a number of years, John’s passion for the travel industry was undisputed. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him.”

Travel Counsellors founder David Speakman said: “Over years we both chatted about our love for our respective local football teams, Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers, in which we eventually invested money and time. But our common love affair was that with the travel industry and its people.

“John had decided to concentrate mainly on high street travel. As an independent he dominated the high street and his belief in the sector was underlined when he added the Cooks portfolio to his empire. That took courage and commitment. He will be missed.”

Chris Photi, head of travel and leisure at White Hart Associates, said: “I’m honoured to have known John and was close to him both professionally and personally. It’s all too easy to label someone a ‘legend’, but John Hays was truly a travel industry legend without a shadow of a doubt.”

Brian Young, managing director Europe, Middle East & Africa, G Adventures, said: “I’m saddened to hear the news of John’s passing and my thoughts are with his family. I am privileged to have spent time with him through work and the many trips away, always an inspiration and fun-loving person to be around. Just awful news. He is going to be missed by us all.”

Jo Rzymowska, EMEA managing director for Celebrity Cruise Lines, said: “John has always been a significant character in the industry from when I started out over 30 years ago.  A true entrepreneur and man of the people who always stayed relevant and always had time for everybody.  My heart goes out to Irene, Helen and all the Hays family.”

John Bevan, chief executive of dnata Travel B2B Europe, said “We’re so sorry to hear the news of John’s passing. He was a man who loved the travel industry and who passionately believed in getting Brits on holiday. Without his drive, the memories from millions of holidays would never have been created. Our thoughts are with Irene and the whole of the Hays family, and all of the staff at a business which will miss him deeply.

Stephen Bath, former managing director and owner of Bath Travel, which John Hays acquired in 2013, said: “How could you not love the guy? He was a safe pair of hands to put my 400 staff into. Our cultures were very similar. He would put his arm around his staff at Christmas and say thank you. It’s what my father used to do. It costs nothing but means the world. It makes staff loyal and that’s what John was very good at.”

A statement from Steve Witt and Paul Harrison, founders of Hays Independence Group member Not Just Travel, said: “We are truly shocked and saddened to hear of the sad news about John today. John was on our advisory board and great friend to us all – we will miss him hugely. We would like to pass on our sympathies and our thoughts go out to Irene and the family and the Hays team in Sunderland, who are one big family.”

Lynn Narraway, managing director UK&Ireland, Seabourn and Holland America Line: “Huge condolences. He was such a lovely man, and a legend.”

Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni parent Der Touristik, said: “Deeply, deeply shocked and saddened by this. John was an inspiration and a true legend of the industry but more importantly he was a great friend. RIP Haysey… you’ll live long and strong in our memories.”

Rad Sofronijevic, chief operating officer for Midcounties Co-operative’s travel division, said: “I have known John for over 20 years and am, personally, deeply saddened by the news as is the whole Midcounties Co-operative Travel team.  Many of us have either worked with him in the past in some way or other, or enjoyed his lovely company at industry events over the years, and the news has shocked and saddened us all. John was a huge advocate for the high street travel agent, a travel industry champion and a true gentleman.  His genuine passion for travel was felt in everything he did – the industry has lost a legend.”

Amanda Matthews, managing director of Designer Travel, said: “The travel industry today is a sad place as we have lost a dear friend and true travel legend. I’ve known John for many years, seen many a ski outfit and had many a late night in his company. We chose to work with John at the start of setting up Designer Travel as we trusted him, he trusted us and we have always worked so well together with him and Irene. We’ve always had a mutual respect and a love of having fun. He was proud of what we’ve achieved and we were super proud of both him and Irene for taking bold moves to protect and grow his Hays family. From the bottom of my heart, I send love and strength to Irene, Helen and family. RIP John, you will be missed by so many but I know that your legacy will live on.”

More tributes flooded in on social media as ‘RIP John’ trended on Twitter.

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Television presenter Steph McGovern, who was a speaker at the Hays IG conference in 2018, also posted her condolences.

Consumer travel journalist Simon Calder paid tribute to Hays.

Hays served as vice-chairman of Sunderland AFC under the Drumaville Consortium led by Niall Quinn. The football club tweeted a tribute.