Travel firms have called for a joint industry effort to address the staff shortage crisis as recruiters warn it will take at least six months to resolve the problem.
The Office for National Statistics reported nationwide job vacancies hit 1.3 million in January, with travel firms highlighting recruitment as one of the most pressing issues facing the sector.
Agents and operators have battled to recruit staff while working long hours to keep up with demand since sales ramped up last month.
Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said recruitment, particularly of new “pipeline talent”, was critical to the bounce-back and should be “top of every business leader’s agenda this year”.
She called on firms, government and colleges to work together.
Dobson said: “The duress that travel has been under over the last few years has resulted in a reluctance for new-to-travel candidates to consider moving to our industry.
“An industry-wide campaign backed by government and higher education institutions would be the next step.”
Barrhead has vacancies, mostly in its shops, and Dobson stressed the need to continue recruiting over the coming months to meet demand.
Blue Bay Travel is looking for up to 15 recruits. Chief executive Alistair Rowland is confident of attracting “top talent” but admitted: “We’ve seen general reticence among people outside the industry to join travel, and we’re noticing a reluctance for existing professionals to move between travel companies or return.”
Rowland, Abta chairman, called for a joint effort to promote the “huge positives” of working in travel. “It’s a shame the pandemic has made it seem like a place of risk,” he said.
Jet2 said its brand strength was helping to fill roles and it would continue to “champion the benefits” of working in travel. Abta is offering members 30 minutes of free advice from its partners and has signposted agents to its recruitment helpline.
But some business owners said they had no option but to work late until they could hire more staff.
Sutton Travel is recruiting for a senior sales consultant. Managing director Andy Tomlinson said: “We are working long hours and extra days to stay on top.”
Advantage Travel Partnership said recruitment was “a challenge” and that members running businesses single-handedly were suffering “more stress”.
Leisure director Kelly Cookes said many former staff had been “tempted by better-paid industries where they don’t need to work weekends.”
Aito head of commercial Bharat Gadhoke predicted a “tough road ahead for a short time” amid “a massive candidate shortage”. He said: “Travel is no longer seen as an attractive industry.”
C&M Travel Recruitment managing director Barbara Kolosinska stressed the importance of flexible working and work-life balance. She said: “There are not enough of the right people for the right jobs.”
She reiterated calls for a collective effort to highlight now is a “good time to return or join the industry”.
Never so busy
Platinum Travel Recruitment managing director Lakshmi Thurairatnam said she had never known travel recruitment to be so busy, but estimated 20% of those who left would not return.
“I’m feeling the pressure of companies wanting staff quickly, but it takes time,” she said.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Of course the hospitality sector is delighted that Covid restrictions are being lifted, but that brings a new problem – how to service increased customer demand without the staff to do it.
“Vacancies in our industry are now double (+102%) what they were before the pandemic, and there has been a fundamental shift in the labour market and hospitality must address that quickly.
“The acute shortfall comes despite employment being close to pre-pandemic levels (-4%), at a time when our sector seeks to be at the vanguard of the UK’s post-pandemic economic recovery.”