Travel agencies across the country are scrambling to hire new agents to replace pandemic-related personnel losses and meet today’s high consumer demand for travel advisors.
And at least one agency is using the opportunity to build back staff in a more inclusive way, and is encouraging the industry to follow suit.
Replacing talent lost during the pandemic is a priority for agencies large and small. Alex Sharpe, CEO of Signature Travel Network, estimated that 80% to 90% of Signature’s member agencies are hiring for several reasons: replacing those who left the industry, adding additional staff to meet demand and compensating for former employees who became independent contractors and are no longer working full time.
Indeed, recruiting new talent is a “top priority” for ASTA in 2023, said its vice president of communications, Erika Richter. The need, she said, is being noted by suppliers, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, which recently invested $250,000 with ASTA for training new-to-the-industry advisors.
Lindsay Pearlman, Travel Leaders Network’s senior vice president of international travel, who like Sharpe said that most agencies are looking to maintain staff levels or to grow with increased demand, said that “advisors are very hard to come by, with senior people being held tightly to their existing arrangements.”
To expand the pool, he is seeing more focus on bringing in “new-to-the-business” hires and providing training for them.
That is a shift Global Escapes in Athens, Ga., has had to make as it looks to hire two or three leisure advisors, a part-time corporate advisor, an executive assistant and part-time support help.
“Because we are so busy and need experienced people who can come in and go to work yesterday, the biggest challenge is lack of experience,” said CEO Tiffany Hines. “We are working around this by updating our training courses and planning to continue to hire new-to-industry and training them ourselves.”
Hines said her agency is also looking to onboard some ICs as employees if they like working in a team environment.
A more inclusive workplace
Despite the hiring challenges in the current market, Flight Centre Travel Group does not simply want to build back: It wants to do so in a better, more inclusive way, said diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) manager Emese Graham, who believes the industry has an unprecedented opportunity.
“Right now, we’re doing so much recovery and rebuilding,” she said. “It’s like this once-in-a-career opportunity to fast-forward what could have taken years upon years in terms of inclusive hiring and promotion, because most industries don’t really get a chance like that to make such a significant dent in systemic issues that take a long time to address.
“Of course, it doesn’t make it easy, but we, as an industry, cannot afford not to take this opportunity,” she added. “This is not going to happen often.”
Graham joined the company’s marketing team in 2018 and rose to her position in March. She is also working toward a master’s degree in social justice and equity studies.
Right now, a lot of her work is focused on building out Flight Centre’s DEI strategy and determining how to measure the company’s progress. She is also heavily focused on education and building equity literacy for everyone in the business.
But no matter an agency’s size or available resources – even if it’s just a one-person shop looking to hire an assistant – there are ways to hire more inclusively, Graham said. She pinpointed two actions that can make a big difference: reviewing job advertisements and employing structured interviews.
“Think about using growth mindset instead of fixed mindset,” she said of job advertisements. “So instead of viewing abilities and talents as fixed or stable or inherent, you really want to think about how abilities and talents can be learnable and they are capable of improvement. That really helps to address a lot of unconscious bias for who we think fits into certain roles.”
For instance, instead of advertising for a “natural people person,” Graham said, an agency could look for someone with “excellent networking skills.” Or instead of looking for someone who is “intelligent,” look for someone “who is always learning” or has “a proven track record.” Using more specific, objective and measurable qualifications will help eliminate bias.
She also encouraged agencies to look for candidates who add to a company’s culture, as opposed to fitting into the team culture that’s already present.
Graham also suggests using structured interviews and to list, in advance, skills required, questions to assess those skills and how to grade responses to those questions. Then, use that same criteria for each interviewee.
“Focus on progress over perfection,” she said, adding that it’s not about getting everything right. “The important thing is you’re taking ownership of what you can control, and that you’re listening and you’re learning and you’re applying that growth mindset to yourself.”