Hays Travel owner Dame Irene named one of richest people in Britain

Dame Irene on Sunday Times Rich List
By Linsey McNeill
Home » Hays Travel owner Dame Irene named one of richest people in Britain

Hays Travel owner Dame Irene Hays has appeared on the Sunday Times Rich List for the first time.

Dame Irene and family came in 324th place, not far behind Mick Jagger at number 315 and David and Victoria Beckham at number 297.

The list is based on identifiable wealth, including land, property, other assets such as art and racehorses, or significant shares in publicly-quoted companies. However, it excludes bank accounts, to which the Sunday Times has no access.

According to Companies House, Dame Irene owns between 50% and 75% of Hays Travel, of which she is chair, with the remainder held in trust.

The company, which was founded by her late husband John Hays in 1980, doubled its turnover to £2.19 billion for the year to the end of April 2023. 

Dame Irene’s Rich List entry reads: “A former civil servant, Hays (70) and her late husband John saved more than 1,000 jobs when the pair bought Thomas Cook’s travel agencies in 2019. Her Hays Travel group tripled profits to £51.5m last year, securing her a place on this year’s list.”

Other entrants who have amassed their wealth in the travel industry include Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, in 74thon the Rich List with a £2.4 billion fortune, easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and family in 95th place with £1.78bn, Butlin’s owner Peter Harris in 98th with £1.74bn, and Jet2 founder Philip Meeson in 232nd place with £718 million.

Philip’s entry reads: “The former RAF pilot turned a low-profile cargo carrier into the package holiday giant Jet2. He retired last year.”

The highest-placed travel figures are Barnaby and Merlin Swire and family, whose fortune of £17.2 billion earned via investments in Cathay Pacific and holdings in Hong Kong and the rest of China put them in sixth place.

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