Hays Travel boss Irene Hays has urged Brits to book their holidays now as prices are continuing to rise.
The chair of the UK’s largest independent agency chain said the company has seen a “tremendous surge” in enquiries after the prime minister’s announcement of the roadmap out of lockdown.
Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, she said her late husband John would have been “delighted” with the agency’s preparation for bouncing back, saying that an outpouring of supportive messages had given her and the team determination to carry on his legacy.
On Tuesday, the firm drafted in an extra 200 staff to cope with the calls as it saw a 347% increase in enquiries.
Dame Irene said it has been “an incredibly busy week so far”, adding: “We have some very tired, very committed, very dedicated people helping us through.”
She urged viewers to book with a reputable travel agent who can offer flexible booking conditions, and take out Covid insurance.
“The best thing to do is book now; we even saw the prices starting to increase yesterday,” she said.
“Year on year, the average price of a family holiday has already gone up by about £214. We believe that will continue.”
She added: “[People] need a travel agent like Hays Travel who will fight their corner if that is necessary, because not all suppliers have behaved well…and make sure they have an efficient, pleasant, friendly rebook or cancellation if that’s what they need.”
When asked about her late husband John, who died in November, she said: “He would be delighted with all the planning and hard work that the teams at Hays Travel have put in, making sure that we were ready for the bounce back.
“All the economic commentators have said that travel would be in the top three industries to bounce back.
“Staff across the country have been phenomenally flexible in the way they have been working from home to enable us to do that, so a huge tribute to them and to the teams in the head office in Sunderland.”
When he died, she said there were “two types of shock” – his sudden death and then the outpouring of support.
“He was taken too soon. We were working from home and he needed to call into the office for a couple of hours where he died in the office at his desk which is exactly where he would have wanted it to happen,” she said.
“The second shock is the response from communities, customers and members of the public.
“We’ve had more than 220,000 messages for John. Sunderland City Council kindly lit up all of our monuments in the Hays Travel colours.
“What that’s done for me and all of the staff – we’re a very close-knit family – it has given us added motivation and determination to carry on his wonderful legacy into the future.”
Part of that legacy is the firm’s apprentice scheme and she said more will be employed.
“We have already appointed our accountancy apprentices for this year and we are just doing the programming for the next tranche who will join us in general retail and our head office,” she said.
“We are absolutely passionate about the importance of young people to a fast-moving industry like travel because they’re particularly digitally and social media savvy, so it’s really important that we bring that vibrancy and that challenge and that freshness into the business.”
Four people on the main board were originally apprentices, she added.
She has booked three holidays – a villa holiday with grandchildren, friends and family; a weekend in France in the autumn; and the Amazon in 2022.
“John and I always wanted to do the Amazon. I have booked a spectacular holiday for 2022 where I intend to do the Amazon on my own but it will be for the both of us,” she said.