According to the most recent Need to Know research, despite a labor shortage in the travel industry, most travel agencies are not actively recruiting. In a survey of nearly 300 advisors, only 28% are currently hiring, even though 35% report having fewer agents than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, 77% of respondents say they are not aware of other agencies that are hiring, despite the fact that 72% personally know advisors who have left the industry. Nearly half (44%) also report that they know advisors who have switched agencies.
“The very good news is that we are seeing a flood of new bookings coming in, and as a result, we are increasing hours for current staff and bringing employees back off furlough as quickly as possible,” said Marc Kazlauskas, president of FROSCH. “The challenge is many of those coming back have been out of the business for 12-plus months, and during that time, the world has changed. This means at least two weeks of training to get them ready on the phones again. And what makes it more difficult is that we have seen about 10% of our furloughed employees leave the industry. They left because either they needed the income, found a new profession that fits their lives better or retired.”
The labor shortage is a significant concern, according to respondents: 55% say the shortage with suppliers is a “very big” problem and another 33% say it is “somewhat” of a problem. More than two-thirds (68%) say that a lack of adequate staffing — either on the part of the supplier or an agency — has had a negative effect on making a sale.
“In addition to staffing, our advisors say that one of our biggest challenges is supplier hold and response times,” Kazlauskas said. “We have some vendors running three- or four-hour hold times. It is obvious they are having the same staffing issues. We have been successful working with our vendors by allowing their sales staff to assist with certain aspects of a booking, such as cancellations; having a dedicated person within the call center to help FROSCH; or, once we have a representative on the phone, we pass the call around to other FROSCH advisors who need to speak to that vendor. Thankfully, none of this has resulted in the loss of business, only productivity.”
Donna Alkarmi, president of Lone Star Travel in McKinney, Texas, sees similar challenges.
Business is extremely strong, but the suppliers have not fully returned all of their staff, so it is a struggle.
“I don’t know about making a sale, but maintaining the current bookings have been challenging, especially with the massive schedule changes,” she said. “Business is extremely strong, but the suppliers have not fully returned all of their staff, so it is a struggle — especially if you are trying to utilize future travel credits from last year and dealing with their accounting departments, which are still not fully staffed or trained.”
Opinions are mixed about the hurdles for recruiting new advisors. Nearly the same percentage cite low compensation (31%), awareness of the profession (27%) and a misunderstanding about what the profession entails (27%) as the main obstacles to hiring new talent.
Plus, there appears to be no easy solution to the labor shortage, as 70% of respondents do not personally know of anyone looking to enter the industry. In the past, 27% of advisors have hired based on industry referrals and 24% go by word of mouth.
Need to Know Survey Series
“Need to Know” is a research series from TravelAge West that tracks the responses of advisors as they relate to various travel trends and topics. This survey recorded the responses of 299 advisors across the U.S. Click here to see more Need to Know stories.