John Hays has been fondly remembered by a fellow travel entrepreneur and business partner whose agency he helped grow.
Don Bircham, managing director of Hays North West, paid tribute to the Hays Travel founder and travel industry icon who passed away on Friday (13 November).
Bircham told TTG the support Hays had afforded him and “hundreds of others” had enabled his agency network to reach almost 40 shops.
“I first met John in 2000 when I was thinking about starting my own business. Back then it was difficult to get things off the ground and there were a lot of challenges when it came to bonding,” he said.
“I’d heard about the Hays Independence Group and this amazing opportunity that John was giving to people like me, so I went up to Sunderland to meet him.
“John was an incredibly successful person who always enjoyed giving others a step up – there are hundreds of us who owe him for the starts he provided us with.”
Bircham set up agency chain Just Go Travel (JGT) with Hays IG that year.
Between 2007 and 2015 he left Hays and operated the agency as a Tui franchisee but when that deal came to an end, he struck up a conversation with a familiar ally.
“I got a call from John and he suggested we do a franchise arrangement. So he took a 40% stake in the business and we rebranded to Hays Travel – he always jokingly called me the prodigal son after that return.”
JGT became Hays Travel North West and in the five years since has more than double its shop count, which currently sits at 39.
“John was always so available with his time and interested in what was going on with your plans," Bircham continued. “He was the greatest travel retailer we’ve seen since Thomas Cook.
“Whatever challenge came his way he’d always adapt and innovate. So many people have written off the high street travel agent over the years but he would always change the game.
“I’m just sorry he won’t be able to see the fruits of the Thomas Cook takeover, which no doubt would have kicked on in the years to come.”
Bircham said Hays’ sudden passing “still didn’t feel real”.
“We were only just recently speaking with Jane Schumm [Hays Travel retail director] about plans for January and how there was a feeling of optimism for next year.
“We were all very excited for January and for things to turn a corner, but the news about John has been a real hammer blow.”
Bircham said he believed Hays’ legacy was twofold – in those he directly employed and the many others whose businesses he helped nurture.
“He took so many kids without a formal education and developed them, trained them up and put them into senior positions with real success – he created a massive amount of jobs in the North East.
“Then for people like me who had that entrepreneurial spirit, he gave us the guidance and infrastructure to grow.
“He broke down the walls. So many of us are grateful for the opportunity he gave us to build.”