South Africa’s domestic and outbound sector is in the midst of a massive talent crisis; there’s no doubt about it. But solving it is going to require action from every industry member and stakeholder. And we must acknowledge, empower and value the talent we already have.
The industry’s recruitment problem began post COVID-19 when we witnessed a wave of fairly indiscriminate retrenchments across all levels of business.
However, the retail industry was already undergoing a major phase of transformation when the pandemic struck. Travel agents had evolved and they are no longer simply travellers’ order-takers. The 21st-century travel adviser is high-touch and has very close relationships with their customers. The ‘old’ corporate consultant role has also changed significantly.
As we scale back up and recruit new employees, look for skills that are a fit for the modern consultant (see the results of Asata’s latest 21st-century travel agent study here).
There is also an opportunity to identify talented individuals who may not have considered a career in travel. These dynamic individuals might be the right type of people for our industry. We can teach them the technical bits!
Think about who it is you want to attract into your growing business. The industry has suffered from a vacuum of experienced consultants as a result of the COVID pandemic. What would it take to get them back from their side hustle or new industry? Do we understand what they need? Who is it we hope to employ?
There is an exciting opportunity to change our approach to recruitment. Think about what the end user or customer expects. Is this who you are about to hire?
The pandemic has been a wonderful PR opportunity for travel advisers but we must ensure that our value proposition matches clients’ expectations of what a travel agent does. The COVID window of opportunity will be lost if we don’t.
The primary reason for using a travel adviser is about services beyond a hotel, package, or flight booking. Travellers want someone there for them when service providers lose their luggage, or cancel their flight. Coming out of this crisis, agents’ value proposition has to be sustainable. It must extend beyond crisis management.
Are we paying enough? I would like to believe that there is a clear understanding that, to recruit the right people, you need to reward them appropriately. I can guarantee that, as an industry, we will never solve our talent crisis if we don’t pay right. And if we are happy to assume that customers are happy to pay for good service and that our value is no longer price-driven, I would like to believe we can find the wherewithal to pay these staff appropriately.
Asata has provided tools and is providing tools to agents to help them rebuild the industry. Rebuilding the talent pipeline is an industry-wide initiative we support, but it must be something we’re all involved in.
Action at many levels
Solving the industry’s talent challenge is going to require action at many different levels and support from various spheres of government.
Another problem is that young travel and tourism graduates are not work-ready. There is a serious difference between tourism and outbound retail travel, and this must be addressed with tertiary institutions and the Department of Education.
The industry’s obsession with inbound travel has influenced what is deemed to be ‘tourism’ at school or tertiary level. We know that working in the domestic and outbound sector requires vastly different functions and skills, and this is why most consortia have established in-house training programmes. Universities and the private sector need to talk to each other to fill the skills gaps.
I firmly believe that Asata can play a much more effective role in the areas of training and education by concentrating on things like the protection of customers’ information, terms and conditions that better protect the travel adviser and the customer, mark-ups versus service fees, and managing consumer complaints in the context of consumer law. We need to be thinking about helping agencies with other looming problems. I don’t see our job as focused on bringing in entry-level consultants. Retail brands must think seriously and take responsibility for building that talent pipeline.
What would success look like? We must first acknowledge, as an industry, that there is a very serious problem. We are not bringing in the right people at every level, and many young people still don’t see travel as a viable or exciting career opportunity. Let’s change that!
I am grateful to those members who have, of their own accord, engaged with local universities and schools already. Asata continues to provide free membership to any training body, university and school that teach travel and tourism subjects so that they have full access to our members, resources, and training.
I urge businesses to rethink their criteria for recruitment. Knowing how to use a GDS to make a booking should not be top of the list of required skills!
Where can we find young talent? How can we attract these individuals into our industry?”
We need to grow consultants who possess the right attitude. Find someone who is gutsy like a lawyer, and who won’t let go until they get what they want. The 21st-century travel agent is service-orientated. Ask what it takes to be an excellent consultant. How important is empathy? That’s the type of worker we need and that’s the talent pipeline we should invest in.