Travel industry ‘must change image’ to attract staff

The travel industry must improve its image in order to lure back staff and attract the next generation of travel consultants, delegates at a travel conference were told.

Speakers at this year’s Barclays Travel Forum said the sector was failing to entice employees, including graduates, and needed to work harder to showcase the types of career opportunities available.

Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said called on the government to help the industry address its current staffing crisis through investment in graduate programmes and apprenticeships in the sector.

She admitted the industry had “an image issue” but stressed: “We have an opportunity to get the best talent. We have got great careers.. We need to grow that profile and attract that talent. This is a long-term issue.”

She called on the government to help the industry address its current staffing crisis through investment in graduate programmes and apprenticeships in the sector.

David Bishop, chief operating officer of business travel firm Gray Dawes, agreed, adding the industry needed to attract more modern appentices to fill gaps in its workforce.

“We have an image problem. We don’t have graduates wanting to become travel consultants,” he said, insisting: “We need to do better, we need to do more to be an attractive industry.”

Flight Centre, which cut half of its customer facing roles during the pandemic, said it needed to recruit staff who had left the sector. “We have not brought them back and we need to. They have just gone, where have they gone?” asked chief financial officer Adam Murray.

He said the sector should sell its fun side to attract staff. “As an industry we need to sell the excitement of working in travel to target that next generation coming into travel. That’s our root to addressing the challenge,” he said.

Wings Travel UK managing director Colin Goldney said business was back up to 70% of pre-Covid staffing levels but said it was particularly challenging as bookings were taking longer to complete in the current market.

“We have less staff and it’s now taking staff three times as long to complete a booking. We lost about 50% of our colleagues and they have gone to other industries or retired, they are not coming back,” he said.

He said the role of the business travel agent had also changed from less of an “order taker” to more of an advisor. The company has recruited around 10% of staff from leisure roles, he added.

Speakers said salaries had risen on average by 5% to 6% year on year to reflect the “tight labour market”. Travel Trade Consultancy director Martin Alcock said travel firms were having to pay “significantly more than 5% in reality”, which was adding even more to companies’ cost bases.

Abbas Khan, research analyst, Barclays, said that once adjusted in line with increased inflation the wage growth of 5% to 6% meant salaries “will still be negative this year.”

He added that the impact of Brexit meant it was harder for Europeans to come and work in the UK and visa versa, which was another “limiting factor” on rebuilding the industry’s staffing levels.

“There is some scope for that to come back [European staff] but I cannot say I am overly optimistic,” he admitted.

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