Comment: Agents have shown their value again this summer

Addressing staff shortages will take time but the future is bright, says Miles Morgan

“We’re only two weeks into the season and we’re already on our knees.” Those were the words I heard one member of cabin crew say to another on a recent flight I took.

It sums up the stark reality for many in the travel industry at the beginning of summer 2022.

Perhaps, like me, you thought seeing the back of Covid was the start of a positive, brave new world, but that has certainly not proved to be the case so far this summer.

It’s easy to see where the problem lies: staff shortages across the industry as well as a general dearth of workers across every industry.

This is compounded by our current image as a sector that is somewhat damaged goods, which doesn’t help. Then there’s the bashing from people who should know better in government and in the media, which is both annoying and unnecessary.

I have written before about the struggle to find staff, especially quality employees, but it is not the same for every business and there are many reasons for that.

Those that dramatically cut their workforces during Covid because they had to to survive are finding it tough, as their starting point is well short of what it needs it to be.

Likewise, those that treated – and continue to treat – their staff as a commodity with little or no engagement are struggling, while those with a rigid policy on flexibility and hours will also find it tough to recruit.

Finally, dinosaur businesses that don’t do enough to be inclusive will also suffer, and rightly so.

New type of travel agent

At Miles Morgan Travel I am proud to say we don’t fall into any of those categories and are faring well in recruitment. We lost very few people over the pandemic and therefore started with a strong base.

That said, we have had to adjust how we do things, and giving opportunities to people with bags of personality instead of travel experience is new to us, but we have embraced it.

Embracing this change has created a new position for a training and development manager, whose job it is to mentor and develop these eager beavers. Their enthusiasm is a real shot in the arm for us all as we grapple with the problems created by staff shortages elsewhere.

It has been amazing to see the instant success of many of them and it highlights yet again that people are keen to buy from those who have enthusiasm and character, even if they’re not the most experienced when it comes to travel.

Supplier support

I must also highlight that the support from our partner suppliers has been brilliant, with both face‑to-face and webinar training being immediate and well-received. This has proved far more successful and much quicker than I had ever imagined, and we are progressing very well.

Our local airport, Bristol, is of huge interest to Miles Morgan Travel. Like many, it had a challenging start to the year with delays and cancellations, and I found myself looking at the departures and arrivals board every morning over my bowl of Coco Pops!

But it is great to have seen no cancellations of late and most planes arriving within 30 minutes of their planned arrival time, with the odd exception.

This has reduced the negative media coverage and therefore the “noise” in our shops from people asking if their holiday in September will operate on schedule.

It shows how the pressure eases for all of us when the industry machine starts to work again.

To escape the challenges the industry is facing right now, all vacant positions will need to be filled, whether it’s at suppliers, airlines or airports. This will take time, but I am confident things will improve as the summer progresses.

With my usual glass-half-full mindset, the early summer challenges have, for a third year in a row, shown the true value of a travel agent.

Booking online might be quick and easy, but using a travel agent is fun, reassuring and increasingly seen as the smart move.

Yep, the future is bright.

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