All 555 Thomas Cook shops are to be bought by rival Hays Travel in a move that could save up to 2,500 jobs.
The independent travel agent said the move gives it shops in areas where it had little or no presence, including Scotland and Wales.
John Hays, who set up the Sunderland-based firm 40 years ago, said he hoped the shops would reopen within days.
It had been an emotional day, he said, with many staff crying when they were told their jobs were saved.
He said it was difficult to give cast-iron guarantees about every Thomas Cook shop, because there would now be talks with individual landlords.
However, “it is certainly our intention to take on all the staff; to welcome them back,” he added. The shops will be branded under the Hays name.
There is likely to be some overlap of stores, and the BBC estimates that there are more than 30 locations where there would be two competing High Street branches. In Yorkshire and the North East, for instance, there are branches just streets apart in Sunderland, Newcastle, York, Leeds, Doncaster, and at Morpeth, South Shields.
The acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, is a significant step for Hays, which has 190 shops, 1,900 staff, and last year had sales of £379m, reporting profits of £10m.
Mr Hays, who owns the business with wife Irene, said: “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.”
‘It’s been emotional’
The takeover deal was struck with the travel industry regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, after several days of negotiations. He said he was “elated to get the deal over the line. It’s been emotional”.
Many ex-Thomas Cook staff had cried when told they still had jobs, he said. “These people did nothing wrong. One day they were in jobs, and the next day they were locked out.”
He expected many of the shops to reopen on Thursday, “although probably with a skeleton staff”. There were some logistics problems – Hays had still to locate many of the shop keys, he said.
More than 100 new jobs will be based at the company’s Sunderland headquarters, with the rest in shops across the UK. The company has tweeted, urging former Thomas Cook staff to apply.