Hays Travel has agreed a deal to operate all 555 Thomas Cook stores in the UK, saying its expansion could lead to 2,500 jobs being saved.
Hays, the country’s largest independent travel agent, said it had already taken on almost 600 ex-Thomas Cook retail employees and job offers were pending for many more.
About 9,000 staff in the UK lost out when the company collapsed last month – prompting the country’s biggest peacetime repatriation exercise to recover more than 150,000 holidaymakers stranded abroad.
That exercise was completed on Monday.
Hays said more than 100 of the new jobs would be based at its Sunderland headquarters, with the rest in shops across the UK.
The company said it was hoping to reopen many sites immediately under the Hays brand but the pace would depend on discussions with landlords, who have been guaranteed payments until December at least.
The Official Receiver’s statement said the property deal, for an undisclosed sum, represented “an important step in the liquidation process, as we seek to realise the company’s assets”.
The expansion at Hays will be seen as a lift for the UK’s high streets but also a risky endeavour at the same time.
A crisis of consumer confidence has combined with surging costs from things such as rising rents and business rates to hurt store-focused companies on the high street.
Thomas Cook’s demise also reignited fears for the wider travel market as airlines engage in a price war at a time of dented demand and higher fuel costs, with Brexit looming large on the horizon.
Hays also runs the Hays Travel Independence Group, a consortium of independent travel agents.
The company’s brands include Just Go Travel, which trades under the Hays Travel name predominantly across the North West of England.
It currently operates from 190 shops and employs 1,900 staff in the UK.
The company began life in County Durham in 1980 when managing director John Hays used the rear of his mother’s kidswear store to sell holidays.
His wife Irene, group chair of Hays Travel Limited, said: “Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand and a pillar of the UK and the global travel industry.
“We will build on the good things Thomas Cook had – not least its people – and that will put us in even better stead for the future.
“We all share a passion for the travel industry and we want to continue to build the company’s reputation for first class service and being a great place to work and develop a career.”
The Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom also welcomed the deal by saying: “Thomas Cook’s collapse has been a hugely distressing time for thousands who have lost their jobs and those had their holidays so badly affected.
“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.”