Staff shortages and difficulties recruiting extend beyond the well-publicised shortages in travel suppliers and aviation to agencies and risk hitting sales.
That is according to Ben Bouldin, Royal Caribbean Cruises vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, who said: “The number of agents working today is a fraction of what it was pre-pandemic.”
He added: “Pre-Thomas Cook’s demise we probably had the most-buoyant travel agency landscape for a long time.
“But a good chunk of people left the industry. We lost 50% of active sellers and now have fewer agents doing more work. In 2019, we had a distribution model with a team of 10 driving around retail [outlets]. There isn’t the demand for that now.”
Bouldin argued the shortage of agents is “in part, because of salaries” but warned: “A massive chunk is due to people thinking ‘I don’t fancy it’. Travel used to be seen as super sexy to work in. I don’t think it is now.
“When I first worked in travel people used to ask ‘How do I get into travel?’ That doesn’t happen now.
“Instead, people say ‘I feel sorry for you. It looks brutal’. We need to make our industry attractive again, attract talent and embrace the talent we have in the early years.” He added: “Some industry models are going to have to be re-engineered – airline ground handling, airport operating teams.”
Bouldin continued: “We’re swallowed up by the need to service customers. But we need people selling not servicing. The other issue is people coming in who don’t know the systems. The recruitment issues won’t be solved quickly, so we’re looking for younger people to invest in and train. It’s going to take longer, but it’s the route we have to take.”
In the meantime, he said: “We actively need to chase down new distribution. We’ve seen a double-digit jump in direct bookings, although from a relatively low base.”
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, agreed: “There are fewer agents selling cruise.” But he said: “When cruising restarted, a lot of agents added flights to cruises and had terrible problems when the flight or cruise was cancelled, so a lot aren’t doing dynamic packaging anymore.”