One of the UK’s largest travel agents has said it will save thousands of jobs at Thomas Cook after a deal to buy all 555 of the company’s stores around the UK.
Hays Travel has already employed 597 members of Thomas Cook staff since the travel group went out of business last month.
The company now intends to reopen some shops as early as Thursday, potentially saving up to 2,500 jobs in total.
It also promised to create another 100 jobs at its Sunderland headquarters.
Husband and wife team Irene and John Hays, who own the travel agent, said the company burned the midnight oil, signing the deal to buy the shops at 11.53pm on Tuesday.
“We are looking to employ as many Thomas Cook staff as possible and we are reaching out to them,” said Mr Hays.
He confirmed the Thomas Cook brand would be wiped from the high street as its shops are rebranded with the Hays name.
Meanwhile, the company will consider the future of under-performing shops in places where Hays and Thomas Cook sites overlap. It has already approached around 140 landlords but the deal guarantees landlords will get paid until the end of December.
The 178-year-old Thomas Cook folded on September 23 after failing to secure a last-minute rescue deal.
The news left around 150,000 passengers stranded abroad, the last of whom were returned to the UK on Monday.
“This is an extremely positive outcome, and we are delighted to have secured this agreement,” said Jim Tucker, a KPMG partner who was appointed joint special manager of Thomas Cook’s retail division after the failure.
“It provides re-employment opportunities for a significant number of former Thomas Cook employees, and secures the future of retail sites up and down the UK high street.”
Mr Tucker said the administrators would work with Hays to “ensure a smooth transition of the store estate”.
He added: “We are pleased to have achieved this in a short timeframe and in the context of a complex liquidation process, which is testament to a lot of hard work from a number of parties.”
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the collapse of Thomas Cook had been “hugely distressing” for staff and travellers.
“I welcome the news that Hays Travel will be purchasing Thomas Cook’s real estate, and hope this will provide significant re-employment opportunities for former Thomas Cook employees, alongside the advice and support we will continue to provide to help people find a new job as quickly as possible,” she said.
Hays was founded in County Durham 40 years ago and reached £1 billion in sales last year. It has 190 shops and 1,900 employees.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union which represents Thomas Cook’s store workers, said he was seeking an urgent meeting with Hays to figure out how the union can help with the “significant expansion”.
“Throughout the industry, the talent, commitment and skills of our members working for Thomas Cook was well-known and I have no doubt they will bring the same dedication to Hays,” he said.
Labour shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said: “While Thomas Cook workers will breathe a sigh of relief, there are serious questions to be answered over why the company was allowed to collapse when it could have been saved.
“There must be a full public inquiry into the Government’s handling of this scandal.”