Abta has led industry-wide tributes to Hays Travel founder John Hays.
Hays collapsed and died at Hays Travel’s Sunderland headquarters on Friday afternoon (13 November).
"It is with the deepest sadness and regret that we have to announce that John Hays, the founder and managing director of Hays Travel, died today, while doing the job he loved," said the firm, the UK’s largest independent travel agency.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, said: "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.”
David Dingle, chair of Carnival UK, said: "I am so desperately sad to learn of John’s passing. He was the most outstanding figure I have known within the British travel industry, most particularly as an icon of social responsibility.
"He always knew when it was time to put people before profit. His example is one from which we can all learn.
"And we should all honour John as the champion of the high street travel agent, recognising that there remains a vital role for face-to-face engagement and trust between agent and client. I hope that others continue to follow in John’s footsteps as a tribute to him.
"Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Irene and his family at this very sad time."
Steven Freudmann, chair of ITT, said Hays was a "giant" of the travel industry.
"But the wonderful thing about John was that he was so modest and he cared about people," said Freudmann.
"When you got to know John, it became crystal clear why he was so successful in business.
"He possessed a huge intellect, and I believe would have been a leader in any business sector. We should all be grateful that he chose travel.
"He was simply a lovely man and he is a tragic loss to our industry. My thoughts are with Irene and his family."
John Bevan, chief executive B2B Europe, dnata Travel Group, 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."
Andy Cohen, head of Atol, 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."
Ben Bouldin, vice president, EMEA, RCL said: "Devastating news for the industry today and our thoughts and prayers are with Irene, his family and the Hays team.
"John’s passion for the travel industry is well publicised and his appetite to keep the old Thomas Cook stores alive and kicking was the perfect demonstration of this. He and Irene have run an incredibly successful business for many years based on nurturing and empowering home grown talent – their collective passion for supporting the North East and providing opportunities for their communities will live on I’m sure.
"Royal Caribbean will continue to support the Hays team where ever we can as they ensure they continue to navigate these incredibly difficult times.
"God Bless you John."
Stephen Bath, former owner of Bath Travel which he sold to Hays Travel in 2013, commented: "The Bath family was delighted to sell to another family business, who knew how to look after his staff, and Bath travel thrived and expanded further under his watch.
"John was a very clever, kind and generous man, very well liked and respected in the industry. He was completely self-made, starting Hays Travel in the back room of his mother’s dress shop near Sunderland less than forty years ago. Until Covid struck earlier this year the business was expected to turn over almost £3 billion in 2020.
"The stress of the past nine months must have been unrelentingly awful, and surely must have affected his health. He will be sorely missed."
Steve Witt and Paul Harrison, co-founders of Not Just Travel, said they were "deeply shocked and saddened" to hear of the passing of John Hays.
"John was on our advisory board and great friend to us all – we will miss him hugely," they said.
"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.”
William Burton, chief executive of Awesome Experiences, said he got to know Hays while sales director at Thomson Holidays.
"He was one of our greatest supporters and a charming and witty man," said Burton. "Clearly highly intelligent, but extremely modest.
"I know he was an astute businessman and could also be tough like all businessmen have to be occasionally, but both personally and professionally we got on extremely well and I am very sad indeed to hear of his passing.
"I would like to express my sincere condolences to his family, and also to his staff, many of whom regarded him as family."
Manuel Mascarenhas, a former managing director of Wendy Wu Tours, said: "I’m deeply saddened by the news of John’s sudden death.
"I have such fond memories of all those commercial agreement meetings, conference times, a visit to the Stadium of Light, red wine, snooker, and a tour of Irene’s collection of buttons at their home.
"Each meeting ended with a hug and his warm, broad and engaging smile. My thoughts and prayers are with you and the family. Rest in peace, dear friend."
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.
"Our thoughts are with Irene and the Hays family, their friends and colleagues at this incredibly sad time."
Others took to social media to pay their respects, with John Hays and RIP John quickly trending on Twitter.
Forget business and the travel industry, I have lost a real friend today. John was simply a great guy and an inspiration to me when I started my business. I will long treasure our fun together be it football, snooker or his legendary one piece ski suit #ripjohnhays a great man.— Miles Morgan (@MMTMan) November 13, 2020
John Hays, my business partner, mentor and friend has sadly died today . My thoughts are with his family and our colleagues across the country. John would have wanted us to get on with looking after our customers, so we will get on with that in his memory.— Don Bircham (@bircham_d) November 13, 2020
We are deeply saddened to hear of the heartbreaking news about the sudden passing of John Hays, founder and managing director of Hays Travel.— CLIA UK & IRELAND (@CLIAUK) November 13, 2020
Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this difficult time. ♥️
We are deeply saddened to learn that a great leader of the travel industry and the North East, John Hays of @HaysTravel, passed away earlier today. Our thoughts are with his family, colleagues and friends at this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/imeOWfaG2c— Newcastle Airport (@NCLairport) November 13, 2020
So shocked & saddened by this news. John, along with Irene are legends for many reasons. This is a great loss to our industry, their community and their teams across the UK. We send our love to their family Hays Travel announces death of founder John Hays https://t.co/2slJqW0hUm— Lindsay Garvey-Jones (@LGJHX) November 13, 2020