Hays Travel’s acquisition of all 555 of Thomas Cook’s high street stores has been hailed a “shrewd” and “savvy” move, albeit one that leaves the UK’s largest independent travel agent with questions to answer about the viability of its new, vastly expanded retail network.
John and Irene Hays announced the deal on Wednesday morning (9 October), mere hours after the final details were hammered out. It comes after Cook’s special managers set a Monday (7 October) deadline for expressions of interest in the historic operator’s sprawling retail network.
Midcounties Co-operative, Barrhead Travel, Miles Morgan Travel and Polka Dot Travel are all understood to have participated in the process, but were brushed aside in favour of Hays and its move for Cook’s entire retail division.
Hays has pledged to reopen as many Cook stores as logistically possible, as soon as possible, albeit with the caveat it would look specifically to retain those stores that would “complement” its existing retail network. It is unclear at this stage whether Hays will be willing to break up the Cook network and potential sell off branches to potential rivals.
John Hays told TTG on Wednesday the business had taken on Cook’s existing rental agreements with a nine-month “licence to occupy”, which can be extended.
The deal has been cautiously welcomed by market and retail analysts, who say that while the agreement is clearly a short-term positive, it remains to be seen whether Hays can make a success of the stores and/or successfully integrate them into the company’s existing footprint.
Julie Palmer, restructuring partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “While on the face of it this looks like a savvy deal, you have to wonder what Hays’ plan is and how they can make it a success; has the travel firm been gung-ho in trying to secure a cheap deal without assessing the viability of taking on these stores?"
Ian Bell, RSM’s head of travel and tourism, added: “The demise of Thomas Cook has left a gap in the market for others to fill so this could well prove to be a shrewd move for Hays. Not only do they gain some of the highly regarded former Thomas Cook staff, they will also earn a lot of goodwill from former loyal Thomas Cook customers.
“That said, this deal does represent a huge expansion for Hays Travel – a quadrupling of its travel agency outlets – at a time when a growing number of consumers are shunning high street travel agents in favour of booking online. Much may depend on the deals that Hays can strike with its new high street landlords.”