The U.S. travel agency industry will only fully recover when it manages to replace the advisors cut during the pandemic. Lack of staff has often made it difficult to book travel for people who want to use travel advice services.
As many people have returned to travel in recent months, they have turned to travel advisors in large numbers for guidance on how to tackle any Covid-19-related challenge they may encounter. In fact, many travel advisers have said they have seen an increase in customers this year compared to before the pandemic.
But renewed interest in travel advisers has not sparked a hiring boom. Several industry executives said many travel agencies have had difficulty hiring due to financial difficulties, and the shortage of advisers has created situations where agencies cannot keep up with the accumulated demand for services. of travelers.
“I’m frantically trying to hire,” said Sarah Kline, president of Maryland-based Time For Travel agency, which is part of Ensemble Travel Group, a consortium of 600 travel agencies in North America. “We’ve started actively searching this spring and summer and we still have to cover the places.”
There are many openings to fill. By 2020, 62 percent of travel advisors in the U.S. were fired or fired. But a survey of about 300 advisers conducted by TravelAge West found that only 28 percent of travel agencies hired, although 35 percent of them reported having fewer agents on their payroll than before the pandemic. In addition, 77 percent of respondents said they did not know of other agencies they hired.
Kline believes hiring difficulties are leading to situations where travel advisors are overburdened and unable to respond to service demands.
So what keeps many travel agencies from hiring new consultants?
Kline believes the uncertainty is a big reason, a thought that was echoed by Joshua Bush, the CEO of Pennsylvania-based Avenue Two Travel. “Agency owners are afraid of other possible closures or variants that call for another round of bookings or more postponements,” Bush said.
Financial problems can also complicate hiring, mostly because more than 90% of travel agencies saw their commercial revenues decline by at least 75% in 2020 compared to the previous year. Approximately 98 percent of U.S. travel agencies conform to the Small Business Administration’s definition of small business, and although many of them received federal assistance through the CARES Act and the Protection Program of paychecks, the American Society of Travel Advisors warned in early 2021 that 85 percent of travel. the agencies would not survive without federal aid.
“Homeowners need to hire new advisors, which means adding costs but having a better understanding of when that revenue will come from,” said Lindsay Neal Pearlman, senior vice president of international leisure for Travel Leaders Network, a large group formed by North. American travel agencies. “Hiring too soon can be too expensive.”
The limited number of advisors on board some travel agencies could harm the sector in another way. “It’s a shame when the potential customer‘ new to working with a travel advisor ’arrives and is turned down,” Bush said, as the aforementioned TravelAge West survey revealed that 68 percent of respondents believe the lack of proper staff has had a problem. negative effect on sales.
“It can leave a negative taste in your mouth or go back to (do it yourself), which right now can be extremely stressful. Many can give up and stay home. That won’t help us when we see people traveling again. “Bush said.
Although he and Kline have seen many travel advisers step down, Bush believes no substitutes will be hired in large enough numbers to efficiently cater to the large number of travelers ready to return to the road. “It could take a year or more,” he said. “It takes real technical training and development to be a great travel advisor. We need to know a lot about a lot of things to serve our customers well.”
Putting new consultants in a position to excel quickly is critical for the travel industry because, as Bush said, the longer it takes to hire and re-hire people, the more likely it is that customers will be frustrated by the lack of service. and poor experiences.
So how can the travel industry reverse the shortage? Kline has an easy step. “Introduce young blood into this industry,” he said.
This is something that the travel industry has not done a good job of. Another survey conducted by TravelAge West and published in September, one of 280 travel advisors, found that only eight percent of advisers say they work with more than five people under the age of 30. In addition, 70 percent of respondents said the travel industry has done a bad job of attracting new advisors.
Kline believes that showing the highlights of travel could guide young people toward a career as a counselor. He cited an example of bringing a group of teenagers to Mexico for their graduation and linking them to their Instagram account to follow their travels, as well as taking them to site inspections and touring dinners. Those young people, Kline said, have been hooked on travel.
“They know what they want to experience and how to share it with the world,” he said.