John ran the North East-based holiday firm alongside his wife Irene (Image: ITV/REX)
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John Hays, the founder and co-owner Hays Travel, has died after collapsing while at work, it has been announced.
John, who ran the North East-based holiday firm alongside his wife Irene, lost his life today after collapsing at the firm's headquarters in Sunderland.
Founded in 1980, Hays Travel is now the largest independent travel agent in the UK.
The company has released a statement confirming the sad news and said John died "doing the job he loved".
A Hays Travel spokesman 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.
"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.
John and Irene Hays, founders and owners of the £1illionbn firm
(Image: Hays Travel)
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"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.
"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."
A Hays Travel shop in a high street
(Image: PA Archive/PA Images)
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In August of this year, Hays Travel announced they would be cutting up to 878 jobs out of a total workforce of 4,500 people.
The travel company said it has "made every possible effort" to avoid job losses "during these extraordinary and distressing times".
It was "on track for recovery" when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stopped advising against all non-essential travel in early July, but the recent decision to reintroduce restrictions for people going to Spain "triggered the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of holidays".
Speaking at the time, Hays Travel owners John and Irene Hays said in a statement: "We are devastated that after all of our efforts and the huge investment we've made we now face losing some of our valued employees, through no fault of their own.
"Following the decision to ban travel to Spain and the changes in furlough conditions coming at the same time, we have had no choice.
"We are also devastated for everyone who may lose their job and we will do all we can in consultations to help them, as we focus on retaining as many people as possible and rebuilding consumer confidence through our renowned friendly and knowledgeable customer service."