Thomas Cook: All 555 stores to be bought by rival firm Hays Travel

Simon Calder
Thomas Cook was one of the last travel agencies to keep stores on the high streets: iStock

All Thomas Cook stores in the UK will be acquired by a rival travel firm.

The 55 high street stores have been bought by Hays Travel, an independent travel agent, which will also safeguard a "significant number" of jobs for former employees.

The Thomas Cook retail estate had been downsized in the past few years to around half of its maximum size.

Several buyers were interested in a “land grab” of travel agencies after the collapse of Thomas Cook – an opportunity to increase their footprint and market share relatively quickly.

Besides Hays, the giant rival Tui was interested in picking up some premises – but did not want to duplicate in towns and cities where it already had a strong presence.

The Scottish chain, Barrhead Travel, was also interested in expanding southwards.

But the Official Receiver clearly felt that a single buyer and a swift transaction was the best way to proceed. It mirrors the sale of precious slots at Gatwick airport when Monarch collapsed two years ago; rather than selling them off piecemeal, the liquidators opted to sell them as a package, at over £50m, to British Airways.

Thomas Cook’s slot portfolio, especially at Gatwick and Manchester, is also likely to be the target of multiple bids.

The speed of the Hays transaction will raise further questions about the collapse of Thomas Cook. The company had been struggling beneath an immense debt burden for years. Had it sold its High Street travel agencies or, indeed, its airline, Thomas Cook may have been able to survive long enough to turn around the business.

The move will also increase calls for travel firms which run out of cash to be kept going under “creditor protection” while buyers are sought for healthy parts of the business.