When and why did you first establish Hays Travel?
I established Hays Travel in 1980 in the back room of my mum’s childrenswear shop in Seaham. I’m from Seaham originally and had completed a maths degree at Oxford University, an MBA at Manchester University and had spent some time as a merchant banker in London. I came back to the North East and wanted to start a business because I had seen what my mum’s shop had done for our family, allowing my dad to leave his job as a coal miner.
What attracted you to the travel industry?
I wanted a business that had relatively low start-up costs, good growth potential and would be something I would enjoy: a travel agency ticked all three boxes.
I had considered becoming an undertaker with my dad making the coffins. It offered good margins but was a let down on the enjoyment side.
How has Hays Travel developed over the years?
We started from very humble beginnings in Seaham and then moved to Sunderland, which was a success, so we started to steadily open more branches. When we got to maybe ten or 12 in the early 1990s when Thomson (then Lunn Poly) offered to buy out the company. I had to make a choice: sell or get bigger, fast. I chose the latter and expanded to up about 30 branches relatively quickly. We now have 140 Hays Travel branches across the UK, 1500 members of staff, a further 300 homeworkers, three call centres and a Sunderland head office and are looking to grow the business further, especially in our tour operator part of the business.
What makes Hays Travel different to other travel companies?
We’re the UK’s biggest independent travel agency so have good buying power and can keep prices low. But we still have the same strong family ethos that we had when we were smaller and that revolves around looking after our customers. It’s something that is embedded in our staff. I’m very proud of our level of customer service. We subscribe to an independent review company, Feefo, along with lots of international companies and our customer satisfaction rate is 99 per cent.
What has been your greatest achievement?
When I was inducted into the Travel and Hospitality Industry Hall of Fame along with some very big names such as Sir Richard Branson.
Also when Hays Travel was included in the Sunday Times best 100 companies to work for. I’m really proud of that. The biggest asset we have is our people and the dedication they show. This is allied with our award-winning training department. We’ve taken on 150 apprentices this summer. A lot of our staff began as apprentices and it is great to see how they have flourished.
Hays Travel works with Royal Caribbean. What is the significance of partnering with such a well-known travel brand?
Royal Caribbean is a fantastic brand to work with and we sell a lot of its cruises. It is a much larger organisation than Hays Travel but culturally has a lot of integrity and is very easy to work with. We do a lot of training with Royal Caribbean and the team is always very open to our suggestions. We have a workshop day soon with senior managers where myself and some of Hays Travel’s marketing and product teams will meet up to work on new ideas and products.
Why should someone book a Royal Caribbean through Hays Travel?
Hays Travel is Royal Caribbean’s biggest partner in the North East and as a result has access to a number of exclusive offers. We can offer its traditional cruises but, because we have a very close association, we can also create unique packages for our customers. So, for example, someone may book a cruise around the Caribbean but may want to spend a few days in Miami before they sail, or visit the theme parks in Orlando afterwards. We can arrange all this for the customer. This is our distinguishing feature and Royal Caribbean is a great partner to help us facilitate that flexibility.
Who are Royal Caribbean cruises suitable for?
Everyone. They’re great for kids and teenagers with amazing things such as waterslides, FlowRider surf simulators and climbing walls. But the ships are divided into different zones or ‘neighbourhoods’, so if you’re looking for a quieter, more sophisticated experience, the cruises are perfect for that, too. My wife and I love being on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.