Hays Travel chair Irene Hays has dedicated her newly-bestowed damehood to the wider Hays Travel family.
Hays was made a dame in the 2020 New Year’s Honours on Thursday (31 December) for services to training, education and young people.
She said the honour was "bittersweet" owing to not being able to share it with her late husband John, who passed away in November.
Hays Travel, founded by John Hays in 1980, has long been lauded for its apprenticeship scheme, which has ensured a strong bond between staff and the business over several decades with nearly half the company’s senior managers having started as apprentices.
"I feel this really isn’t an award just for me, it’s for all the people who have created the right environment for all those people to succeed and the apprentices and the young people themselves," the BBC reported Hays as saying.
Despite for a number of years being the UK’s largest independent travel agency business, Hays Travel became a household name in October 2019 when it stepped in to acquire Thomas Cook’s retail estate saving thousands of jobs and earning Irene and John Hays their "heroes of the high street" moniker.
Hays, 66, has been given the full title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to training, education and young people.
She was awarded a CBE for services to local government in 2008 after serving as chief executive of South Tyneside Council and Sunderland City Council, as well as director general for local government and regeneration with the Department of Communities and Local Government.
"Irene Lucas-Hays has focused consistently on creating an environment in which employment opportunities are supported by the acquisition of skills, whether it be in promoting apprenticeships within local authorities and the travel industry, or through her work on encouraging advanced manufacturing investment into the north east," read Hays’ full nomination.
"Irene and her husband have supported apprenticeships for 40 years and in 2015 set up the Hays Travel Foundation to support organisations working to help young people achieve their full potential. The foundation has a specific focus on improving the skills and life chances of young people."