Hays Journey: the company weathering the pandemic against all the odds


When Hays Journey purchased 555 large road travel brokers from the collapsed tour operator Thomas Prepare dinner in 2019, the acquisition appeared foolhardy at most effective.

The £7.8m deal tripled the dimension of Hays’ retail estate and extra 2,300 workers to the Sunderland-dependent company’s payroll. About a 3rd of Thomas Cook’s estate was not worthwhile.

“Who in their right thoughts would want to consider on hundreds of high street retailers at a time when on-line holidays are booming?” one particular commentator wrote.

John Hays, the founder of Hays Vacation, a 41-calendar year-outdated British organization with a website but no on the net scheduling system, pinned that write-up on his shaving mirror to remind him to demonstrate naysayers mistaken.

But the worries that lay forward were being of a scale that not even the most sceptical observers could have imagined.

Less than six months right after Hays’ Thomas Prepare dinner acquisition, the Uk went into its first Covid lockdown, global borders shut and all non-crucial outlets ended up pressured to shut.

After brutal months striving to strip expenses from the small business, which culminated in the business reducing 503 of its 6,500 personnel in September, John Hays out of the blue passed absent in November.

Until finally the Thomas Cook dinner deal John realized the name of each individual staff in the business, and his wife Irene, Hays’ chair, described his demise as a “huge loss”. But she stated “we are completely established to make on the business in his name”.

So significantly Hays appears to be weathering the pandemic far better than lots of of its rivals.

Even with a retail estate of 450 stores and the reduction of its founder, it has survived many waves of Covid that have induced journey bans and past-moment improvements to govt steering, with out introducing a pound of debt to its stability sheet or bringing in new shareholders.

It entered the pandemic with web assets of £49.5m and has taken gain of all feasible federal government help, from business enterprise rates reduction to furlough.

An aeroplane of Condor, the German subsidiary of the British travel group Thomas Cook, pictured at Dusseldorf airport in September 2019
An aeroplane of Condor, the German subsidiary of British travel team Thomas Cook, pictured at Dusseldorf airport in September 2019. The Thomas Prepare dinner offer included 2,300 staff to Hays’ payroll © Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty

Numerous rival holiday break firms and airlines have experienced to tap financial institutions or take state-backed financial loans. Many key Uk travel corporations together with STA Vacation and Shearings have collapsed.

The Hays story confounds these that think the significant avenue vacation agent is useless. Jane Schumm, Hays’ retail director, admitted that taking on three periods the range of stores just prior to a worldwide pandemic brought about “a handful of gray hairs”, but explained: “There are definitely no regrets, definitely none on our element, none in any way.”

Hays started at the again of John Hays’ mother’s babywear retailer in 1980 “among vests, trousers and small woolly tights” offering “Butlins and Pontin’s and mentor holidays”, Hays mentioned. In its to start with 12 months it took £812 in profits.

It grew organically and through acquisition, getting the 60-web-site Bournemouth-primarily based agent Tub Travel in 2013 in advance of bidding for the Thomas Prepare dinner retailers in 2019. Holiday seasons on sale array from £2,000 bucket-and-spade vacations to £80,000 cruises.

As quickly as the March 2020 lockdown was declared, the agency “immediately started off taking all expenses out, hoping to cut down each penny”, mentioned Irene Hays.

Workers were being questioned to suggest price tag-conserving actions that ranged from cutting out tea and coffee to switching the way overseas exchange was collected. They saved the firm £1.8m.

Hays explained the decision to allow go of employees as “heartbreaking”.

But challenging selections have assisted to secure the group’s money place, despite the fact that like some others it will have suffered a sharp rise in losses in 2020. It has not but filed accounts for past yr.

“I took a facility with Barclays, a revolving credit history facility more than the future three several years but we haven’t touched it,” said Hays. “We went into the pandemic with a powerful harmony sheet because John and I hadn’t taken a dividend for 11 many years and we did not pay out ourselves a good deal of funds.”

In 2019, its best paid director attained £224,000, in accordance to accounts filed at Companies Household.

Line chart of Number of UK travel agents  showing Hays defies high street decline

Detractors in the business have claimed the company has survived the disaster simply because of a govt deal to run a Covid get hold of tracing phone centre very last year, aided by Irene Hays sitting on the Department for Education’s board.

“The authorities could have specified [the contract] to [trade body] Abta . . . so we all could have had a style of that,” reported 1 rival agent.

Hays claimed it was subcontracted by a independent enterprise just after it pitched for the position pursuing a staff suggestion. It included that it does not remark on speculation about Irene Hays’ placement.

Hays stated she believed the corporation experienced benefited from staying unbiased instead than tied to a tour operator. “We just hear extremely carefully to what the buyer would like and check out to match the finest holiday we can at the very best value,” she stated. The team will take a margin of about 12 for each cent on bookings.

A broad range of expert services outside of offering holiday seasons — Hays delivers back again business office operations to extra than 200 independent vacation agents, providing them better getting ability in a fiercely competitive business, and started to franchise stores in 2014 — helped revenues access £1bn in 2019.

Nonetheless, pre-tax revenue fell that year from £11.6m in 2018 to £3.4m because of the Thomas Cook dinner acquisition and the fallout across the Uk vacation market from the tour operator’s collapse.

Revenue are at this time working at 35 for every cent underneath 2019 degrees but the firm is forecasting a return to pre-pandemic degrees by 2023.

A cyclist passes a Hays Travel shop in Canterbury, UK
The complexity of scheduling a trip may perhaps gain Hays as shoppers flip to vacation brokers for information instead than booking on the net © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The recent tangle of travel constraints and testing prerequisites have pushed fatigued personnel close to to breaking issue as they deal with a frequent churn of refunds, but the complexity of scheduling a vacation may well advantage Hays as buyers switch to travel agents for information instead than reserving on the internet. The quantity of new consumers to Hays has increased from about 20 for every cent of its complete foundation in 2019 to 50 to 55 for every cent.

Stephen Douglas, a new client to Hays’ Ashington branch immediately after many years of booking vacations on the net, mentioned that though his Caribbean family vacation almost certainly value him “an additional £1,000”, he would e book with Hays once more for the reason that the agents have been “spectacular”.

“Hays understands its goal market place incredibly perfectly,” claimed Jim Tucker, running director at Interpath Advisory, who oversaw the sale of the Thomas Cook stores. “What they locate is that their shopper will do their initial investigate on the web and arrive into store to entire the transaction.”

Consumers are reserving additional extended-haul journeys, specifically to the US and Maldives, and expending much more. Schumm is enterprise a job to locate gaps in Hays’ store coverage and released a campaign to grow its franchise business enterprise previous 7 days.

The group is also recruiting 60 people to its “virtual contact centre”, which publications holiday seasons for buyers more than the phone.

Hays, who is organizing a cruise of the Amazon in the spring, stated: “People could have a shorter memory and go back to selling price-pushed holiday seasons but I assume a whole lot of men and women really feel that for such a substantial and emotional buy they like to know who they are working with.”

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