The boss of Jet2holidays says he “takes his hat off” to independent travel agents who have proactively changed their models during the pandemic.

Chief executive Steve Heapy said agent bookings had been “up enormously” in the days since the prime minister’s roadmap announcement and said he had “nothing but admiration” for their hard work, creativity and professionalism.

“Independent agents have stuck with us through thick and thin as I think we have done with them,” he said.

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“The way they’ve changed the business models over the last few months has been brilliant, I’ve got nothing but admiration. There are some really good businesspeople out there, they might run one or two branches, but they’re businesspeople that care about their business, their employees, and most importantly, their customers. And we’re very proud to be working with them.

Speaking exclusively on a Travel Weekly webcast, he added: “Very encouragingly, agents were up considerably in pretty much the same proportion as our other business, and that’s great to see. It shows that travel agents are working very hard and adapting their business models to the way things are at the moment.

“If you’ve got a travel agent sat in the shop in the high street saying ‘where’s all the customers?’, they’re not going to get any. So the fact that travel agent bookings are up enormously shows that they are perhaps cultivating their own databases; doing their own local advertising; doing things on social media; or doing emails to their database – and I think it’s fantastic.”

But Heapy stressed “the high street is not by any stretch dead” though he said he believes “it will have to change”.

“I think there’s a huge future for independent travel agents,” he said. “They offer a great service; they’re very knowledgeable, they provide great training to their staff and they’re very enthusiastic people.

“In terms of building the excitement and anticipation of the holiday and knowing the product and providing a great customer service, they’ve been really good. Many travel agents have been up until eight or nine o’clock at night and it’s just fantastic. I take my hat off to our travel agent partners who they’ve been very proactive in changing the way their models operate. It’s very good to see.”

Asked if Jet2holidays would be running its agent conference this year, Heapy said: “We very much hope to be able to do it. It would be nice to do all the serious stuff at the conference. But, let’s face it – a big part of having a conference is unwinding after a long, hard year and having a bit of fun – and that’s how good relationships are built.”