THE founder and boss of the North-East travel firm Hays Travel has died after collapsing at work, it has been announced.

John Hays, who was married to co-owner Irene Hays, died aged 71 at the Sunderland head office on Friday, a statement from the Wearside-based firm said.

Mr Hays, who founded the firm in 1980 with its first branch in Seaham, had become a well known personality in the region after expanding over the years.

Mr and Mrs Hays were last year praised after the firm purchased every Thomas Cook branch, retaining staff, following the travel operator's collapse in September.


On Friday afternoon, Hays Travel issued a statement confirming Mr Hays' sudden death at the as thousands of tributes were paid to a "champion" of the North-East.

'Doing the job he loved'

A statement from the firm said: "It is with the deepest sadness and regret that we have to announce that John Hays, the founder and Managing Director of Hays Travel died today, while doing the job he loved. "

SEE MORE: Tributes pour in for North-East 'legend' John Hays after sudden death

"John, who with his wife and co-owner Irene Hays bought the Thomas Cook retail estate a year ago, was at work in the company's Sunderland Head Office when he collapsed."

Paying tribute to his work over the past four decades, the company said Mr Hays was held in "immense respect" by staff, family and friends.

The statement said: "John built Hays Travel into the UK's largest independent travel agent providing jobs and careers for thousands of young people over 40 years.

"Throughout this past difficult year he did everything in his power to save jobs and protect the travel industry.

The Northern Echo:

"He was held in immense respect by his staff, colleagues, family and friends and was recognised throughout his life for his many achievements.

"He was equally proud of his loyal staff who, under the direction of the board and senior management team, will ensure that the business continues to serve the customers of the UK's largest independent travel agent as he would have wanted."

According to the firm's website, Hays Travel now employs more than 7,500 people in almost 550 branches across the UK.

Later on Friday, thousands of tributes for Mr Hays poured in across social media with Sunderland FC remembering the "champion" of the North-East.

SEE MORE: Tributes pour in for North-East 'legend' John Hays after sudden death