Former Alnwick Thomas Cook staff tell of rollercoaster of emotions after Hays Travel rescue

Travel agent staff in Alnwick have ridden the full rollercoaster of emotions over the last few weeks.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 12:46 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th October 2019, 12:50 pm
Manager Samantha Griffiths and staff Molly Lewis and Michelle McDonogh at the Alnwick branch of Hays Travel.

They were left shocked and devastated by the sudden collapse of Thomas Cook on September 23, then surprised and delighted when Hays Travel stepped in on October 10.

Manager Samantha Griffiths said: “I had just come out of an interview at the job centre when I got a call from my old regional manager, who is now at Hays Travel, telling me they wanted to open a shop in Alnwick.

“He said they wanted the whole team to come back so I told the other girls, although our initial thoughts were that it was too good to be true!”

John Hays, Founder and Managing director, and Irene Hays, Chair of Hays Travel Group. Picture: North News & Pictures.

A week later, contracts had been signed, training completed and the Bondgate Within shop was open again.

“It still feels a bit surreal but amazing at the same time,” said Samantha. “The general public and customers old and new have been so nice to us. Their first thoughts were about us rather than their holidays. It really was quite overwhelming.”

Former Thomas Cook staff Michelle McDonogh, Molly Lewis, Joanne Leightley and Sasha Knox are also back on board – and new positions are being created at the branch.

“It’s hard to believe we’re expanding,” said Samantha. “Everything has happened so quickly but the people at head office have been so friendly in helping us get everything in place.

“Thomas Cook were very regimental in how we did things but Hays Travel, without having its own flights, want us to focus on what the customer wants. They’re very flexible and we have a lot more options to offer customers.

“We have been so busy since reopening. Our old customers have started to come back but we’re also seeing new ones so it’s been great.”

It is hoped that new signage will be in place soon, while the staff have even improvised to incorporate the Hays Travel corporate colours into their uniforms.

“We didn’t want to wear our Thomas Cook uniforms so we improvised with these orange and blue outfits until we get our proper uniforms,” said Samantha. “People are still a bit confused with the old Thomas Cook signage still there but hopefully the Hays Travel signs will get done soon.”

The staff were owed a month’s pay when Thomas Cook collapsed, as well as holiday pay and bonuses, but the government sorted it out within 10 days.

Michelle said: “It’s been a complete rollercoaster. It was the strangest three-week period.”

Although there had been media speculation about Thomas Cook’s financial predicament in the days leading up to its collapse, Michelle says she was still taken aback when it happened.

“The company had told us not to worry and that everything would be fine so we were in the dark about the seriousness of the situation and it came as a huge shock,” she said. “I had just marked my 18 years’ service on my last working day before it happened.”

Samantha added: “The news broke early in the morning and we wanted to come into the shop to sort out customers’ holidays but we were told not to touch anything.”

Sunderland-based Hays Travel has reopened 555 former Thomas Cook stores across the country and now has 1,210 people on its books.

Owners John and Irene Hays, speaking last month, said: "We are really humbled at the fantastic response there has been from our wonderful staff, our customers, suppliers, friends and many complete strangers who believe in what we're doing."There's a huge will to see our high street shops thrive and we're determined that we will be doing our bit for the travel industry with the help of everyone in the now extended Hays family."We'd like to thank everyone who has helped make this happen - we know the hard work is just beginning for our brilliant teams."