The UK’s largest travel firm Hays Travel has announced a return to profit for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Three years since rescuing Thomas Cook shops and jobs, the company has announced a profitable year for the group in 2021 and 2022. The 42-year-old Sunderland-based company weathered multiple challenges to the travel industry during the crisis.
The firm has now reported a profit before tax of £14.35m from its operations in high street retail, online service centres, homeworking, franchise, foreign exchange and its Independence Group (providing back-office services to other independent travel agencies). This was despite a turbulent 12 months with ongoing coronavirus restrictions, the Omicron variant, the national recruitment crisis and latterly the tragic Russian invasion of Ukraine impacting the whole travel industry.
Travel bookings increased by 221% versus the 12 months ended 30 April 2021 and the Group achieved a transaction value of £1.07bn. The company made two acquisitions, and continues to have no debt and does not use overdrafts. The balance sheet continued to strengthen with significant improvement in sales of cruise and touring holidays. The customer base increased, with 52% of customers being new to both Hays Travel and former Thomas Cook stores compared to 19% in 2019.
Hays Travel successfully acquired the licence to operate the Thomas Cook retail branches on 9th October, 2019. Owner and chair, Dame Irene Hays, said: “These results vindicate our decision to acquire the Thomas Cook retail estate and we have fulfilled the commitment we made then to return the remaining shops to profit. “The key to our success is our customer service ethos. Each time a new challenge appeared – whether it was traffic lights, restrictions or cancelled flights – our agents were there for their customers.”
Diversifying during the pandemic to provide business processing services, utilising contact centre skills and expertise, and the strength of the balance sheet pre-pandemic all played a part in sustaining the business. With new challenges on the horizon, not least the cost-of-living crisis, Hays Travel’s business plan remains ambitious and achievable, said Dame Irene.
She added: “The demand for holidays continues. As the UK’s largest independent agent, our vast range of products means we can find holidays for people who are on a budget or those who want luxury, longer cruises or touring holidays, and we are seeing lots more people choosing to spread the cost by direct debit. “In the current year we will continue to grow organically and via acquisitions as well as developing our Independence Group, Foreign Exchange and Homeworking Divisions, continuing our focus on great value holidays and excellent customer care.”
In 2019 the company retained all former Thomas Cook employees who wanted to join Hays Travel and increased overall staff numbers in the three years since the acquisition. There are now 542 apprenticeships across the UK in travel agent or Head Office roles. Dame Irene commended the commitment and skills of the company’s staff: “Our people have yet again been phenomenal. The success of the company in 21/22 is down to their fantastic commitment to continued customer service throughout the pandemic and ever since. “We’ve continued to recruit and train more travel agents and head office positions and more than doubled the number of apprentices. I am delighted that we can now continue to reward our retail teams for their loyalty and hard work with a significantly increased bonus scheme.
“I’m also pleased to be able to reinstate our contributions to local communities through our branches across the country and the Hays Travel Foundation.” The Hays Travel Foundation aims to help young people achieve and be the best they can be in health, sport, the arts and education. The company also funds Community Partnerships in all its stores to support charitable causes in their local area.