Featured image: Hays Travel 


Magical Mackems is a page dedicated to bigging up the people and places that make us incredibly proud to be from Wearside. 


We’re paying tribute to John Hays, the founder & Managing Director of Hays Travel and Sunderland hero who has tragically passed away.



John built up the UK’s biggest independent travel company from humble beginnings.

Having founded a travel agency in the back of his mother’s children’s clothing shop in Seaham back in 1980, within two years Joh had opened another in store in Sunderland and the rest is history. 

Fast-forward to the present day, and John along with his wife, Irene, built up Hays Travel to become the UK’s largest independent travel agent, with 7,500 staff and an annual turnover of more than £1 billion.

Although John and Irene have been incredibly successful, the couple are also two of the most respected people in the travel industry – renowned for their heartwarming care towards customers and staff. 

After the collapse of Thomas Cook in September 2019, Hays Travel took over the entire retail estate of the firm and kept all staff employed. A clear example of their generosity and passion for people.

We’ve only just scratched the surface as to the impact John has had on our city.

He has contributed an immeasurable amount to the region and he will be truly missed by everyone.



Here’s how some of the city have been paying their respects… 


Sunderland MP Julie Elliott said: 

“So sad to learn of the death of John Hays – such a lovely man an inspirational business leader and true champion of all things Sunderland. He will be missed by all who knew him, my thoughts are with his wife Irene and family.”


Steph McGovern tweeted: 

“Am devastated John Hays has died. He was one of the good guys in business. He cared so much about his staff+did loads for the region. A true philanthropist. We met years ago at a charity event helping young people into work+became good friends. All my thoughts with Irene+family.”


Sunderland AFC tweeted: 

“We are incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of former Vice-Chairman John Hays. John was a champion of the North East and the City of Sunderland. Our thoughts are with his wife Irene, his family and his friends at this time. Rest in peace, John.”

A minute’s silence was held ahead of Sunderland’s match with MK Dons on Saturday, with the club paying tribute to its former vice-chairman alongside local photographer Dean Matthews, who died on Thursday.



 A fundraising page set up in John’s memory has raised more than £17,000 since being created on Saturday. To donate, click here.

Our love goes out to his friends & family. Rest easy John. 



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