A woman stands outside a closed Thomas Cook travel agents store near Manchester, the UK, October 9 2019. Picture: REUTERS/PHIL NOBLE
A woman stands outside a closed Thomas Cook travel agents store near Manchester, the UK, October 9 2019. Picture: REUTERS/PHIL NOBLE

London  — Britain kicked off Wednesday the dismantling of Thomas Cook, with the sale of all 555 UK stores to a smaller rival of the collapsed holiday giant.

Household name Thomas Cook, which went bankrupt overnight in September, was the biggest holiday company in Britain with both a tour operator and airline division.

Travel agent Hays Travel, which is mostly based in northern UK, announced in statement that it has acquired the branch portfolio from the official liquidator for an undisclosed sum.

Thomas Cook brought down the shutters after it failed to secure a funding lifeline.

The official receiver added on Wednesday that Hays has already recruited 421 former Thomas Cook staff.

Hays added in a separate release that it could potentially save up to 2,500 jobs — and would seek to reopen some shops as soon as Thursday.

And it also expects to create another 100 jobs at its headquarters in the city of Sunderland, northeastern UK, as a result of the transaction.

The independent travel firm was formed 40 years ago by husband and wife team Irene and John Hays.

It has since expanded to 190 branches and employs 1,900 staff with annual sales of more than £1bn.

“We are looking to employ as many Thomas Cook staff as possible and we are reaching out to them,” said John Hays.

Brand to go

He also confirmed the Thomas Cook brand would disappear from the British high street and will be replaced by Hays.

“Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand employing talented people. We look forward to working with many of them,” said the independent travel agent’s founders in a statement.

“The agreement will see Hays Travel acquire a total of 555 stores around the UK, providing re-employment opportunities for a significant number of former employees of Thomas Cook’s retail operations who were made redundant,” the statement said.

Wednesday’s announcement was welcomed by the British government and travel industry trade union the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.

It offers hope to some of the 9,000 UK staff who were made unemployed overnight when the group collapsed in acrimony.

David Chapman, director of the Official Receiver, remarked that the sale “represents an important step in the liquidation process, as we seek to realise the company’s assets”.

Jim Tucker, partner at administrator KPMG, also added that the Hays deal “provides re-employment opportunities for a significant number of former Thomas Cook employees, and secures the future of retail sites up and down the UK high street”.

The Official Liquidator declined to comment on the outlook for the sale of Thomas Cook’s remaining assets — but added they would be sold “in the best interests” of its creditors.

The collapsed company’s notable assets include 100 aircraft at its airline division, and 200 hotels and hotels clubs around the world.

UK airline Easyjet has hinted that it could be interested in some of Thomas Cook’s air operations, as the low-cost carrier already serves some of its destinations.

Britain’s government on Monday completed the country’s biggest peacetime repatriation, returning 140,000 UK-based Thomas Cook customers stranded abroad by the company’s bankruptcy.

In total, around 600,000 customers were left stranded following the collapse of the 178 year-old company less than three weeks ago, including around 140,000 who had been due to return to Germany.

The company’s demise included 22,000 job losses worldwide.

The debt-plagued travel company struggled against online competition for years and blamed Brexit uncertainty for a drop in bookings.

It declared bankruptcy on September 23 after failing to secure fresh funds. Its biggest shareholder was China’s Fosun Group.

AFP