Hays Travel, the UK's largest independent travel agent, has been working around the clock to help customers who have been affected by Thomas Cook’s collapse.
The business – which was founded in Seaham by managing director John Hays and has branches across the region including Sunderland, South Shields, Hartlepool and Northumberland – has said it is the largest third- party agent for Thomas Cook, and had 35,000 bookings for those yet to travel when the firm folded.
The announcement came on Monday after efforts to put together a bail-out package failed.
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On the Thomas Cook collapse, Mr Hays said: "It wasn’t really a surprise, but you obviously hope they will survive and feel really sorry for the Thomas Cook staff.
“In Sunderland, I was in over the weekend on Saturday and Sunday, and our two operating teams had been round to Thomas Cook staff in The Bridges to help out and give them some presents and they were all quite emotional.
“There is a solidarity amongst people. It is really sad on a personal level.
“We did have some time to prepare on Friday when it was headline news.
“We prepared what we were going to do if they went down, so when they news came we had people ready."
After the news broke Hays Travel stores faced queues of worried customers wanting to know what would happen to their holidays.
The company says staff have called all clients who are abroad on Thomas Cook flights so that they are in touch and said it was their priority to get customers who were due to fly with Thomas Cook to be booked on alternative holidays.
Mr Hays continued: “We are the largest third party agent for Thomas Cook so we had 35,000 bookings yet to travel when it went down. That is a lot.
“In terms of people looking after clients Hays Travel has the most in the country to sort out, so it is a mammoth task.”
Praising his ‘amazing’ staff, Mr Hays continued: “We had several staff queuing up outside of The Bridges to get in on Monday morning and again on Tuesday.
"So staff came in early – but people had also come in voluntarily and worked until late at night.
“It has been really pretty tough because it is a major business.
“A lot of our shops had queues out into the street and phone systems just jammed, so the level of service we would normally like to give, we haven’t been able to be maintain for those reasons.
“But we have managed to get a lot of people booked, although people had to be flexible because of change of the dates and where they are going to.”
He continued: “I’m sorry it’s happened.
“Please be patient with us, we are really doing our best but it is pretty chaotic.
“Getting people re-booked is very difficult because there is not much capacity, so its tough, but we are doing our best.”