April 18, 2024

Business travel’s lost talent

Widespread redundancies and furlough will have a lasting impact on the business travel sector, says Lynne Griffiths, CEO Sirius Talent Solutions, in our Q&A

How would you describe the impact of the pandemic on staffing and recruitment in the business travel sector?

Obviously, it’s been devastating with thousands made redundant and thousands more placed on furlough. A great deal of talent has been lost at all levels from ops consultants to senior management as many people have sadly been forced to leave the industry in order to find employment in other sectors.

Do you think those who have taken jobs in other sectors will want to return to business travel as things pick up?

Many of them will be reluctant to come back to business travel, certainly for the foreseeable future, as they have found job security elsewhere. Or they have taken the opportunity to pursue a career change, such as become a teaching assistant, personal trainer, work in the health service or starting their own business. But there are also those who are very keen to return to business travel and the industry they love.

What trends are you seeing in terms of supplier job vacancies as business travel returns?

At Sirius we have seen some increases in jobs being advertised, particularly for sales, marketing, product delivery and technology positions. But salaries are currently being driven down due to an excess of supply over demand. We see more applicants for fewer jobs, which impacts salary levels. Additionally, many roles that were previously office based can now be done from home – that means employers can recruit staff in regions where salaries are lower. Another factor is that displaced staff who have been forced to take lower-paid jobs in other industries will accept a salary reduction in a travel role as it’s still an improvement on what they’ve earned over the last year. But I believe this is a short-term trend. Salaries will increase again in six to twelve months as business travel returns and demand outstrips supply because so much talent has left the industry.

Do these trends also apply to corporate travel manager roles?

We did see some travel managers made redundant last year, mainly through a reduction of resource in larger global teams. However, we have also seen some companies create corporate travel buyer roles as they recognise that travel has become more complex, with the traditional remit now extending to include sustainability, security and safety. Salaries for travel manager roles have not been impacted and we are not seeing a talent shortage at this time, mainly as some made redundant in 2020 are still available and also ex-travel supplier/TMC personnel can make the switch to client side. The corporate travel buyer skillset is expanding to focus on other areas of the business, collaborating with corporate security and HR functions.

What workforce challenges will employers face once significant levels of business travel return? 

This will depend on how quickly significant levels of business travel resume. There is going to be a skills gap at operations level within TMCs as so many highly- experienced consultants were let go. The challenge will be to replace this ‘lost generation’. There needs to be considerable investment to attract and train new talent, and to bring them into the office. This is important as a new entrant needs to be office based in order to learn the skills required. For those staff who were retained through the pandemic but worked from home, or are being brought back from furlough, the challenge will be to re-establish company culture, but also ensure people enjoy the right work/life balance.  Employees have seen that there is more to life than work and longer term, the shortage of talent is going to be challenging for employers. This will push salaries up further, but employees aren’t just looking for a pay rise; they will only change jobs if the corporate culture and employee wellbeing are right for them as well.

What impact will the shortage of TMC and supplier talent have on travel buyers and arrangers?

This is a very real and current problem and inevitably part of the return to normality will be the establishing of new supplier relationships. In some instances, UK contacts have been moved overseas and in others continuation of furlough means that a business manager is only available one or two days a week – but with the same client base. There could be a dip in service levels as resource is ramped back up and clearly this will be a challenge for the suppliers to manage.