The remains of Thomas Cook snatched up by rival tour company

Britain kicked off Wednesday the dismantling of Thomas Cook, with the sale of all 555 UK stores to a smaller rival of the collapsed holiday giant.

Household name Thomas Cook, which went bankrupt overnight last month, was the biggest holiday company in Britain with both a tour operator and airline division.

READ: What to do when you've booked with a collapsed tour company like Thomas Cook

Travel agent Hays Travel, which is mostly based in northern England, announced in statement that it has acquired the branch portfolio from the official liquidator for an undisclosed sum.

Thomas Cook brought down the shutters late last month after it failed to secure a funding lifeline.

The official receiver added on Wednesday that Hays has already recruited 421 former Thomas Cook staff.

'Reaching out' to staff'

Hays added in a separate release that it could potentially save up to 2 500 jobs - and would seek to reopen some shops as soon as Thursday.

And it also expects to create another 100 jobs at its headquarters in the city of Sunderland, northeastern England, as a result of the transaction.

The independent travel firm was formed 40 years ago by husband and wife team Irene and John Hays.

It has since expanded to 190 branches and employs 1 900 staff with annual sales of more than 1 billion pounds (about R18.5 billion at R18.49/£).

MORE: Thomas Cook bankruptcy affects some 600k tourists, Condor subsidiary to keep flying

"We are looking to employ as many Thomas Cook staff as possible and we are reaching out to them," said John Hays.

He also confirmed the Thomas Cook brand would disappear from the British high street and will be replaced by Hays.

"Thomas Cook was a much-loved brand employing talented people. We look forward to working with many of them," said the independent travel agent's founders in a statement.

"The agreement will see Hays Travel acquire a total of 555 stores around the UK, providing re-employment opportunities for a significant number of former employees of Thomas Cook's retail operations who were made redundant," the statement added.

Wednesday's announcement was welcomed by the British government and travel industry trade union the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA).

And it offers hope to the 9 000 UK staff who were made unemployed overnight when the group collapsed in acrimony.

David Chapman, director of the Official Receiver, remarked that the sale "represents an important step in the liquidation process, as we seek to realise the company's assets".

Jim Tucker, partner at administrator KPMG, also added that the Hays deal "provides re-employment opportunities for a significant number of former Thomas Cook employees, and secures the future of retail sites up and down the UK high street".

READ: Why travel giant Thomas Cook collapsed 

Creditors' 'best interests'

The Official Liquidator, when asked by AFP about the outlook for the sale of Thomas Cook's remaining assets, declined to comment - but added they would be sold "in the best interests" of its creditors.

The collapsed company's notable assets include 100 aircraft at its airline division, and 200 hotels and hotels clubs that are based around the world.

UK airline Easyjet has hinted that it could be interested in some of Thomas Cook's air operations, as the low-cost carrier already serves some of its destinations.

Britain's government on Monday completed the country's biggest peacetime repatriation, returning 140 000 UK-based Thomas Cook customers stranded abroad by the company's bankruptcy.

In total, around 600 000 customers were left stranded following the collapse of the 178 year-old company less than three weeks ago, including around 140 000 who had been due to return to Germany.

The company's demise sparked 22 000 job losses worldwide.

The debt-plagued travel titan struggled against fierce online competition for years and blamed Brexit uncertainty for a drop in bookings.

It declared bankruptcy on 23 September after failing to secure fresh funds. Its biggest shareholder was China's Fosun Group.

CHECK OUT: How to avoid unnecessarily paying double for your travel insurance

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