"The web was Thomas Cook’s enemy, whereas a Hays Travel member of staff would say the web was their friend,” said John Hays, managing director of Hays Travel who have taken over all Thomas Cook shops in the UK.

A husband and wife business couple, who set up their travel business 40 years ago, hope to employ all 2,500 former Thomas Cook UK staff, after taking over the leases of the collapsed tour operator’s 555 shops.

John and Irene Hays, who started their business Hays Travel in Sunderland in England’s north-east, paid an undisclosed amount for leasing the shops of the 178-year-old Thomas Cook business at 11.53pm (UK time) on Tuesday, Hays Travel said in a statement. Thomas Cook went bust with more than 600,000 bookings outstanding last month, The CEO Magazine reported.

Hays Travel, the country’s largest independent travel agent chain, has already recruited 595 former Thomas Cook workers.

“These people didn’t do anything wrong, one day the company went into liquidation and their jobs had gone,” said John Hays, the managing director of Hays Travel.

“When we’ve been offering them new positions, they’ve been really emotional. A reasonable percentage have actually cried.”

Irene Hays, the chairwoman of Hays Travel, rubbished a claim by Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary, that the number of people booking flights and hotels online meant the package holiday industry was “screwed”.

“No, we do not agree with Michael O’Leary,” she said. “There’s been a huge resurgence in package holidays in recent years.”

Hays Travel John and Irene

The travel company added that it plans to reopen all the shops with immediate effect with some opening doors as soon as Thursday (UK time).

Hays Travel has 190 shops across the UK and will almost quadruple in size. It employs 1900 people and achieved a turnover of more than £1 billion last year, which saw the Hays share £1 million with its employees, who each received £100 for every year they had worked at the company.

Hays Travel uses other tour operators to sell holidays to customers such as travel package operators Jet2holidays and TUI.

The UK Office for National Statistics state the number of package holidays taken in the UK has been rising steadily since 2014, reaching 18.2 million last year.

John Hays said the company’s business model was better suited to the internet age, with web enquiries leading to customer visits on the high street.

“The web was their (Thomas Cook’s) enemy, whereas a Hays Travel member of staff would say the web was their friend,” he said.

“Our staff were devastated to hear about Thomas Cook and we all immediately felt we wanted to help.

“In the last two weeks we have already employed or offered jobs to around 600 former Thomas Cook colleagues, and it has been a very emotional experience for them. Now that we are able to re-open the shops, we are looking forward to welcoming many more people who share our passion for the travel industry, into our family business.

“I’m very proud of the fantastic team who have helped me build Hays Travel over almost 40 years and they have worked tirelessly over the last couple of weeks to bring this about. It is a game-changer for us, almost trebling the number of shops we have and doubling our workforce – and for the industry, which will get to keep some of its most talented people.”

Thomas Cook’s spectacular failure stranded 150,000 holidaymakers overseas, landing Boris Johnson’s government with a repatriation bill expected to exceed £100 million.

The company is now in the hands of the Official Receiver who are in charge of dealing with the insolvency process.

David Chapman, the official receiver of Thomas Cook, said: “This represents an important step in the liquidation process, as we seek to realise the company’s assets.”

Read next: Chernobyl to be official tourist attraction