There was an irony to the “brave new world” theme at this year’s Abta Travel Convention. Largely because the travel leader who perhaps represents it best wasn’t even at the conference. He was, instead, busy securing arguably the biggest travel agency deal of the decade.
In 2019, at a time of immense pressure on the high street and continued economic and political uncertainty, there aren’t many companies gutsy enough to treble their retail footprint.
John and Irene Hays’ decision to not only acquire Thomas Cook’s entire retail portfolio of 555 shops, but to also save up to 2,500 jobs, is the epitome of a company openly embracing a “brave new world” for their business.
The shock move certainly stunned Abta delegates, many of whom had spent the convention pondering which of the many companies that put bids in for Cook stores were likely to be successful.
No one envisaged them being hoovered up by just one company. It’s a move, though, that does raise obvious questions – not least whether Hays will retain all 555 stores. John Hays admits some shops will be weeded out, but is confident “the vast majority” will stay.
But in towns that already have a Hays Travel branch – and/or a Hays IG member – will it really make sense to add another Hays store?
Nonetheless, it is, as Der Touristik’s Derek Jones put it, “an amazing vote of confidence in the travel retail model”.
It’s also shrewd, securing ready-made, ready-trained, highly regarded staff – and their customers. As consultancy firm RSM notes, it will also likely earn Hays a “lot of goodwill from former Thomas Cook clients”.
With numerous big brands in other sectors cutting their retail footprint, Hays’ decision to “almost treble” its number of shops is impressive testament to the strength of the independent travel agent. Who said the high street was dead?