Recruitment remains biggest challenge facing industry, say travel retailers

Recruitment remains the single biggest challenge facing high street travel retailers despite an easing of the acute staff shortages following pandemic restrictions being lifted last year.

Fred Olsen Travel retail director Paul Hardwick told a Travel Weekly Business Breakfast at Abta’s Travel Convention in Bodrum: “Recruitment is the issue that has had the biggest impact.

“How do we bring people in? And when we bring people in, it takes time to train them. We saw it as a barrier to our expansion, so we came up with a mini academy scheme with a training provider. It’s a three-month programme that takes training duties away from existing staff while new people learn about the job.”

Hardwick noted “lots” of recruits are new to travel but “have sales or customer service experience” and reported: “We have seven training now and plan to take eight to 12 a year.”

Claire Evans, chief operating officer for travel channels at The Midcounties Co-operative, agreed, saying: “We started in a terrible place [post-pandemic]. We’re in a more stable place now and looking to universities [for recruits].”

She said: “We’re seeing people move across functions. People want flexibility and purposeful work. We’ve moved people from homeworking to stores and vice versa.”

Evans added: “We have massive growth plans and will be recruiting hard from the new year.”

Dawson & Sanderson managing director Annelene Hutton told the Business Breakfast: “We still have vacancies in retail, so we’ve gone back to training and development. We’re bringing in about 10 people a year and doing a lot of internal training.

“We’ve also restarted our apprenticeship programme. We have eight apprentices now and will take a minimum of 10 each year.”

Hutton added: “We’ve done a full restructure of the business and assessed every job, giving everyone a pay grading and increased wages.

“We want to be one of the better‑paid agencies. But it’s not just about pay, it’s about being listened to and feeling part of the business.”

Hardwick agreed: “We have a lot of staff who’ve been with us years. We’ve made cost-of-living payments, but it’s about what you add to that.”

The Travel Network Group chief executive Gary Lewis noted: “The culture I came into in the 1990s was very transactional. But people want more than that, more than just selling holidays.”

Speaking on a webcast following the rescue of Online Travel Training by Travel Weekly parent Jacobs Media Group last week, chairman Clive Jacobs said the desire to ensure the trade has continued access to high-quality training was key to the acquisition.

“I’m passionate about the travel industry, and agents in particular. Training is fundamental to the success of our industry and to the continuity and relevance of travel agents,” he said. “Agents perform a critical role, but they need to be trained.”

Travel Weekly released the 10th edition of its annual careers publication Take Off in Travel this week. The prospectus-style magazine and website showcases the range of careers in the travel and tourism industries and is targeted at young people and those switching sectors.

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