Will the buyout of Thomas Cook’s 555 high street stores take off?
At 11.53pm on Tuesday night, the directors of family-owned Sunderland-based holiday firm Hays Travel clinched what is surely the biggest coup of their careers: buying Thomas Cook’s entire collection of high street stores.
They appear to have timed their move well. Although owners John and Irene Hays wouldn’t tell reporters the price yesterday, they have doubtless picked up the shops at a knock-down price versus what they might have paid if Thomas Cook was still trading.
However, despite the deal saving thousands of jobs, many were left scratching their heads when the good news broke yesterday morning.
After all, Hays only has 190 stores; buying Thomas Cook’s retail arm will nearly treble that, practically overnight.
Begbies Traynor restructuring partner Julie Palmer 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?”
But Hays is no small fry. It made a £1bn revenue last year, and by virtue of being independent it uses other tour operators such as Jet2 and Tui to sell holidays to customers.
John and Irene were defiant yesterday, categorically disagreeing with Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s claim at the start of the month, that the package holiday market “is screwed, it’s over”.
They said there has been “a huge resurgence in package holidays in recent years” across all of their metrics.
Figures from trade group ABTA appear to back this up, with the number of people booking them rising 15 per cent in the last five years.
But after the disastrous collapse of Thomas Cook dealt a serious blow to the image of travel agents last month, Hays may need that trend to continue if they are to vindicate their big move.