Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley pays tribute to John Hays, who died on Friday
As one friend and colleague of John Hays succinctly put it, it is easy to overuse the term legend, but today, the travel industry has lost a true giant.
The news that John had collapsed this morning while at his company’s head office came as an immense shock. But the outpouring of grief and condolences since his death was confirmed is a tribute to the esteem in which he was held by so many friends and colleagues across the industry, in the northeast of England and far beyond.
I first met John when I joined the travel industry as a reporter 21 years ago, and in the two decades since I have had a front row seat as he and his beloved wife Irene built the business which is now the UK’s largest high street travel retailer.
An incredibly intelligent and driven yet modest man, John had the rare ability to put people at ease and gave the impression that he had time for everyone, regardless of their standing.
Just one recent example of the respect and admiration he commanded was a Travel Weekly executive dinner last year at which he and Irene were the guest speakers after their acquisition of the Thomas Cook retail estate.
The invitation list was formed of the leaders of the UK’s largest travel brands, and without fail they accepted – often adjusting their diaries in order to hear from John and Irene first-hand and share their fantastic company.
John worked hard and played hard, and I will cherish many memories of events and overseas trips and conferences in both sun and snow, when his business acumen and fierce intellect were always apparent, but were inevitably accompanied by a sense of fun and a joy for the business and industry in which he had chosen to build his empire.
Like many in the travel industry, my thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Irene, his family and the Hays Travel staff who were always his priority.
As the company said in the statement confirming the desperately sad news, it was some solace to know that he died doing the job he loved and surrounded by the people he worked tirelessly for.
The UK travel trade, and the wider travel industry, is a far poorer place for his passing.