Abta 19: Leading agency chains line up to take over Thomas Cook leases

Barrhead Travel, Midcounties Co-operative, Hays Travel, Millington Travel, Polka Dot Travel and Miles Morgan Travel are understood to be among the retailers to have lodged bids with the liquidators of Thomas Cook for its former stores.

But there is widespread frustration that the process to acquire the leases on the branches is taking so long.

Travel Leaders Group-owned Barrhead and Hays Travel are understood to have submitted bids for a significant proportion of the failed network, while Midcounties has applied for 73, and the smaller miniples a handful each in their geographical locations.

UpdateHays Travel to buy Thomas Cook retail estate

Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, confirmed that Cook’s demise had “increased the opportunity for and urgency of our expansion plans”.

She said: “Barrhead Travel sees great potential for significant expansion throughout the UK. Since our acquisition by Travel Leaders Group, Barrhead has been carefully reviewing expansion plans. The Thomas Cook closure increased the opportunity for and urgency of our expansion.

“We are eager to recruit the highly talented professionals who were previously employed by Thomas Cook and anticipate having openings throughout the UK.”

Travel Leaders chairman Mike Batt added: “I can confirm that we are absolutely interested in the Thomas Cook stores. We think that the great majority are very good and we think that the staff are outstanding.

“Honestly, the sooner the staff go back to work and start to serve their customers again, the better it is for everyone. We support agents and so even if it’s not Travel Leaders, someone needs to secure them – and soon.”

Speaking at the Travel Convention in Tokyo, Alistair Rowland, chief retail officer, specialist business at the Midcounties Co-operative, confirmed he was after about 52 Thomas Cook stores and had put in a bid for 73.

“The ones I have applied for are located between north of London and south of Manchester,” he said.

“There are at least three bids for every shop – certainly the ones that we are going for. Final bids had to be in on Monday. The important thing is to not split these teams up as it’s the people in each branch, and their relationships with their customers, which is so valuable.”

However, Rowland added: “There is a frustration that the process is taking too long when we want to get teams back into their shops. And the longer that it isn’t completed, the more disparate the teams will become because they will start to get other jobs. The administrators should conclude to allow this process to complete.”

Another bidder, who asked not to be named, said: “You have to ask why the administrators are taking so long. Maybe they have someone who wants to take all 500-plus stores and pay the premium for them, but if they don’t…every day that these stores are closed, then they are jeopardising the future of the staff.”

“It all depends on who is prepared to pay,” the source continued. “It sounds easy to take over a lot of stores, but we’re not talking about an inconsiderable amount of money. If the average lease is three to five years, and the average rent the administrator is asking for is £40,000 a store, that’s already more than £120,000 per store that you’re committing to. Times that by 10, by 20, by 100, by 500, just in lease commitments, that’s a huge amount of money.”

And the bidder added: “Then you have bonds, Atol and everything else…there’s not going to be too many companies that can take on that number of shops. You also have to take into account that just because you pay the bounty, it doesn’t mean you definitely get the store as the landlord may not agree to surrender the lease to the administrator’s client. So there’s risk in there too.

“We are waiting patiently. If the administrators find someone to pay the price they are asking, then fair play. Their job is to get as much money for the creditors as they can. So, if they secure the deal they want then hats off to them…but if at the end of this process they don’t, then it will be fair enough to ask them why they jeopardised so many jobs.”

Barrhead’s Dobson added: “We are enormously optimistic about the future of the high street shop and its pivotal role in the planning journeys for UK holidaymakers for many years to come.”

UpdateHays Travel to buy Thomas Cook retail estate

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