Hays Travel boss Dame Irene Hays to name new P&O liner

The boss of Sunderland’s Hays Travel will be guest of honour at a very special ceremony next month.
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Dame Irene Hays DBE, DL will name P&O Cruises’ new ship Iona in Southampton on May 16.

The ceremony, which will be broadcast to a virtual audience, will include a short performance from Gary Barlow, music director of the ship’s 710 Club.

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Dame Irene’s husband John, who died last November, founded Hays Travel in 1980 and it has grown to become the UK’s largest independent travel agency group.

Dame Irene Hays will name the Iona in a ceremony next monthDame Irene Hays will name the Iona in a ceremony next month
Dame Irene Hays will name the Iona in a ceremony next month

Dame Irene was instrumental in the expansion of the company and particularly in the acquisition of Bath Travel in 2013 and Thomas Cook’s retail travel agencies in 2019.

She was awarded a CBE in 2008 and she was made a Dame in the 2021 New Year’s Honours for her services to training, education and young people, which she said was recognition of the commitment John and the training team at Hays had made to developing young people.

Prior to the Thomas Cook acquisition, over 40% of Hays Travel managers had started out as apprentices.

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The firm has headquarters in Sunderland and has shops across the region including on Weaside, South Tyneside and Hartlepool.

John HaysJohn Hays
John Hays
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P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said “We are absolutely delighted that Dame Irene Hays will be Iona’s godmother in a landmark naming ceremony which will be the first stepping stone on the path to the return of the UK cruise industry.

“Since the inception of Hays Travel there is no-one who has been more supportive of cruising or been more of an ambassador for the travel industry than Dame Irene Hays.

"As such there is no one more appropriate to take centre stage on May 16 in this prestigious event as we celebrate her achievements and pay tribute to her husband John.”

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Dame Irene has been a strong supporter of the Hays Travel Charitable Foundation, which has donated more than £1.5million to support young people: “We feel honoured that we are able to support the Hays Travel Charitable Foundation which encourages young people to be the very best they can be across education, sport and the arts,” said Mr Ludlow.

"Being able to play a small part in securing the future of the next generation is indeed a privilege.”

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