Some agencies are taking on new staff as sales improve and more millennials seek travel advice, the Travel Weekly Future of Travel conference was told.
Speaking in a panel discussion focused on the trade, Travel Counsellors UK managing director Kirsten Hughes said around 150 to 160 agents had joined the group in the last year.
The group has around 1,400 Travel Counsellors in the UK and has reported a 30% increase in enquiries in the last quarter from people interested in setting up a travel business.
Hughes said: “We have recruited a significant amount since we’ve been back in the office. We have more Travel Counsellors now than we did pre Covid. I think it’s brave and very wise; some may think this is mental.”
Haslemere Travel owner and chair of Aito Specialist Travel Agents Gemma Antrobus (pictured) said smaller agencies would also be considering taking on more staff or re-recruiting in the next year.
She said the end of furlough on September 30 would see most of Haslemere Travel’s staff return to work under flexible work arrangements.
Antrobus said: “We have some staff who have taken extended leave, but we do have people coming back to work and working on a flexible basis to get back to being fully open to clients.
“I envisage having a full team next year and re-recruiting staff lost from the pandemic.”
Antrobus has been running her business single-handedly for most of the pandemic, like many other Aito agencies. “It’s what has had to be done to save jobs in the future,” she said.
The recruitment plans come as agents report enquiries are coming from a broader customer base than pre-pandemic.
Hughes said: “We are getting so many new customers that ordinarily would not have booked with a travel agent. Millennials are coming to us in droves.
“They need hand-holding. For a long time to come they will be a need for great agents to take care of their clients.”
Following on from the conference, a number of other agencies also said they were planning to recruit staff as the sector finally began to open up.
Mark Johnson, director of Polka Dot Travel, which made redundancies early in the pandemic, said: “Business is now stronger and enough to warrant us making recruitment a priority. Our problem is we are not in a position to open all our shops as we do not have enough staff.”
Spear Travels chairman Peter Cookson warned of a “brain drain” if the industry did not stop more employees leaving the sector. All its branches will be open and staff back as normal from October 1. He said: “It’s surprisingly hard to find staff in some areas.”
Premier Travel director Paul Waters said increased demand had allowed it to bring back staff on full pay and hours from October 1. It planned to advertise for staff this week.
Sister operator Premier Holidays was also recruiting but sales and marketing director Debbie Goffin acknowledged the end of furlough had created “a complex picture” different for individual travel businesses.