The rise of Jet2 Holidays has gone a long way to filling the gaps left after the failure of the XL Leisure Group and helped supply to recover to post recession levels, the Hays Independence Group conference was told.

XL’s collapse in September 2008 was the biggest failure in the history of the travel industry and came as the downturn started.

It took out the only close competitor in terms of size to the big two Thomas Cook and Tui Travel and preceded other collapses leading to concerns about a dearth of product available to the trade.

However, Jet2 Holidays has grown from a standing start just over recent years, and is now Hays Travel’s third biggest supplier, the group’s Independence Group conference was told yesterday.

The short-haul tour operator has made particular strides establishing itself in its northern heartland and now has the Midlands in its sights.

Andrew Kendal, group commercial director at Hays Travel, said customers were now asking for Jet2 as a brand and potential clients were being driven to independent agencies to book.

“It’s fantastic Jet2 has come into the marketplace. As an industry we are not quite back to where we were before XL but Jet2 has filled a lot of the gaps certainly from a regional point of view.

“We are still doing big volumes for the big two but in the northeast and northwest of England and Scotland we have a big three now.”

Gavin Forth, Jet2 Holidays head of marketing, said the operator has grown to become the UK’s third largest over the last four to five years.

“As an airline we are absolutely proud of being a leisure airline – that is what we are about. We have very much focussed on the north of the UK at the moment.

“We do not have plans to expand into the south, but who knows, watch this space on that one.”

Forth said Jet2 had worked hard to build brand awareness targeting local markets on television, radio and outdoor advertising to increase awareness levels.

He said this was seeing it push into the Midlands, an area which is had earmarked for significant growth.

“We spend money getting people aware of our brand and we will get people walking into your shops.

“Growing though travel trade retail is absolutely what we are about. There’s no point getting people aware of your brand unless they want to buy from you.”

Forth said Jet2 was very proud of what it has built. “We put a lot of money into TV and that’s paid real dividends for us.

“We are going to keep on spending and want to be the biggest in the north and with your help we will get there.”