June 13, 2024

The recruitment challenge

As the industry continues to look for ways to overcome the talent shortage and attract the next generation of travel buyers, we check in with Kerry Douglas, ITM Head of Programme

What roles are the most difficult to fill and why?

From a supplier perspective, a lot of frontline staff, particularly in hotels and hospitality, left the industry during the pandemic. These are the roles that are more difficult to fill because it involves recruiting and training people who are new to the industry.

From a buyer perspective, there isn’t an immediate shortage of staff but it’s about the longer term and attracting the next generation of individuals into the travel manager role. That’s why ITM has established a taskforce to identify career pathways to the buyer role and raise awareness of the travel manager role as a profession.

What must the industry do to attract new talent? What are the biggest challenges?

The industry needs to better articulate and educate potential candidates on the opportunities to develop multi-faceted skill sets and the broad range of experience that can be gained through the diverse roles available in travel.

There needs to be a renewed focus on training schemes, apprenticeships and graduate programmes to bring in new talent, but also nourish this talent with greater clarity around opportunities for career progression, the dynamic nature of the industry and the transferable skills gained.

One of the challenges is the perception that a job in travel is financially risky due to the pandemic, especially if you are the main breadwinner. Another challenge is that working in travel has lost some of its appeal, because salaries are lower than other sectors and nowadays staff no longer receive as many discounted travel perks to make up for that.

There may also be growing concerns from potential talent about the viability of the travel industry due to accelerating priorities such as the environment and climate change.

Our ITM taskforce is looking at ways to remind people of what’s great about working in the travel industry, particularly the broad level of skills that a corporate buyer will build as part of their role; the sense of community; the breadth of knowledge you can gain across industry sectors; and how the industry is addressing issues such as sustainable travel.

In order to better understand the career pathway for travel managers, ITM is currently looking to ‘pool’ a number of buyers across differing sized organisations and travel teams to understand which pathways members have personally taken and use this to build a resource highlighting those different pathways.

ITM is also discussing opportunities to build the model for apprenticeships within the buyer community, working with third party travel providers and sharing learnings for example to create placements within corporate companies for a specified period.

What are prospective candidates looking for? Will salaries need to rise?

It depends very much on the nature of the role and career level but in general salaries do need to be re-visited, particularly at entry level and for frontline staff. Candidates are looking for clear career progression, job security and fair remuneration, to make them feel valued within their organisation.

What are the opportunities for people considering a career in business travel?

There is no other industry that presents such a plethora of opportunities to build so many different skillsets in different roles. Whatever your strengths or weaknesses, there is a role for everyone in business travel.

It’s also the only industry that is connected on such a global scale that is so dynamic and constantly changing, which opens up new doors for career progression.

Our industry has a unique opportunity currently, with so many vacancies to be filled, to target talent from non-travel backgrounds. Skillsets such as customer service, technology, sustainability and wellbeing are all transferable from other backgrounds as they are so relevant to business travel.

What’s your personal career path?

I caught the travel bug when I was young as I travelled a lot with my parents. I particularly loved the airline industry from a young age and even applied to join Aer Lingus as a pilot but I didn’t have the right skills to get through the recruitment process. After leaving school I did a BTech in Travel and Tourism, then studied for a joint Honours Degree in Marketing & Tourism at university.

My first job was as a graduate trainee manager at Sainsbury’s but after eight months the lure of the travel industry was irresistible and I joined Virgin Atlantic. I stayed with Virgin for 20 years, rising through various sales roles to become Head of Corporate Sales.

A few months after I left I joined ITM in 2019 as Head of Programme. My key responsibilities include defining and executing ITM’s overall programme strategy. I also own and lead ITM’s cross-industry working groups on key interest topics.

What do you love about working in travel?

I love the sense of community that comes with working in business travel and the opportunity to build relationships with other people and stakeholders. I also enjoy the fact that it’s a dynamic industry, which is constantly changing and evolving. It never stands still.

Business travel also gives me insight into different industry sectors and a window on different business areas, such as technology, marketing, or telecommunications. This means I am constantly learning and progressing professionally and personally. It would take a very attractive offer to encourage me to leave this fabulous industry.

Kerry Douglas is Head of Programme for the Institute of Travel Management (ITM)