Hays Travel still in talks with landlords over former Thomas Cook shops

Hays Travel says it is still waiting to hear back from some landlords of properties that former Thomas Cook shops occupy before it can make further decisions on the size of its retail estate.

The UK’s largest travel agency chain now has 456 branches after closing 86 of a possible 89 under consultation in January, and redeploying 33% of affected staff into other roles within the company.

Asked if any further reviews were on the cards, chair Dame Irene Hays said: “We’re still waiting for some landlords to come back to us.

“We did the piece of work because the licence [to operate the stores after the acquisition in October 2019] came to an end in October of last year. But we have obviously held over some of the properties until we made a final decision.

“That’s still continuing today because the landlords themselves have had an incredibly difficult time and some of them don’t come back to us as quickly as we’d like them to.”

Asked during Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Spring Forum if Hays Travel was driving a hard bargain on rates, she said: “We’re trying to do the very best we can to make sure we can stay in their properties. It’s got to work for them, but it’s got to work for us as well.”

Chief operating officer Jonathon Woodall said some of the displaced staff had moved across to Hays Travel’s new virtual contact centre, launched earlier this year.

It now employs more than 30 agents, a number Woodall said was expected to grow.

“The way customers are transacting with us, in that digital environment, has needed us to invest more,” he said. “These staff, who were at risk of redundancy, [and] who have moved across to that role, they’re obviously dealing with customers in various ways.”

Woodall explained that many customers are speaking to agents in events, adding and said the virtual contact centre would support the retail estate via email, social media and live chat enquiries out of traditional working hours. “We see that’s going to continue in the future,” he said. “That’s why we’ve put our efforts into the virtual contact centre.”

He said the centre has “got off to a great start” as part of a plan to “make sure that we’re not just a nine-to-five high street agency”. “Customers can transact with us in any way, at any time,” said Woodall, who said the centre offered customers the chance to speak to real specialists.

“We’ve got people that specialise in certain areas so you can channel leads or enquiries,” he explained. “So if you’re doing a marketing campaign, let’s say on Kenya, we can make sure that the customers are going to speak to somebody who specialises in that area and can help them.

“It’s just delivering that service to the customers, which hopefully should just result in higher conversions and more sales for us, which is our objective.”

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