Collapsed Thomas Cook stores could re-open in Burnley after rival travel company steps in to buy them
In a move that could potentially save up to 2,500 jobs, Hays Travel, the UK's largest independent travel firm, struck a takeover deal with travel industry regulator the Civil Aviation Authority after several days of negotiations.
John Hays, who set up the Sunderland-based firm 40 years ago, said it was difficult at this stage to give 'cast iron guarantees' about every Thomas Cook shop as talks had to be held with individual landlords.
But the company boss said it was certainly their intention to take on all the staff and the new shops would be branded under the Hays name.
The business is thought to have a licence for six months to occupy Thomas Cook stores, giving Hays time to strike new deals with landlords.
The acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, is a significant step for Hays, which has 190 shops, 1,900 staff, and last year had sales of £379m, reporting profits of £10m.
When Thomas Cook collapsed, after crisis talks to save it failed, around 22,000 people lost their jobs worldwide, including 9,000 in the UK.
It also sparked the biggest ever peacetime repatriation by the Civil Aviation Authority to bring more than 150,000 British holidaymakers back to the UK. The last flight to repatriate Thomas Cook customers landed at Manchester Airport on Monday.
There is likely to be some overlap of stores in several towns and cities and Burnley is among them, having branches in Chancery Walk and Curzon Street.
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said she hoped the deal 'will provide significant re-employment opportunities for former Thomas Cook employees, alongside the advice and support we will continue to provide to help people find a new job as quickly as possible.'
The Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) union, which had members in Thomas Cook shops around the UK and in its head office in Peterborough, welcomed the move.
Manuel Cortes, TSSA's general secretary, said it offered 'real hope of reemployment to former Thomas Cook retail staff, many of whom are our members.'