Part 2 of a two-part series on staffing issues at travel agencies. Read part 1.
It’s a tight job market all around—and travel agencies are no exception. So what’s an agency owner to do when they need to bump up staff ASAP?
“Many travel advisors are going independent, so that hurts the industry for those trying to hire, and many went and found other things to do and haven’t come back,” says Scott Caddow, owner and luxury travel advisor at Legendary World and vice chair of the board of Signature Travel Network.
In addition to about 10 ICs, Caddow employs 10 full-time W-2 employees. Before Covid, he tended to hire new-to-the-industry “smart sales-oriented people who wanted to build a career” and train them himself. But in the current rush, there’s just no time for that. Instead, he considered the many experienced independent contractors (ICs) out there—and ended up hiring a woman with 30 years of experience.
“I put it out to my friends in the industry who were ICs, or knew ICs—and when I mentioned it to one person because I hoped she’d put it out to her network of friends, she said, ‘I’ll do it myself!’”
Smart and seasoned as she is, though, it was not easy. The first hurdle was moving her bookings—but luckily, Caddow knew the owner of her former agency, and they worked things out. The original agency will keep all her 2022 bookings, to lessen the disruption to both them and the clients involved. They will continue to pay her regular IC split.
Anything booked in 2023 and beyond, however, will move to Legendary World, where she will work on commission plus receive a signing bonus over the next year until her commissions begin to flow. Plus, he said, “we have a ton of business, so the opportunity for her was to get all these new clients that I can’t manage.”
A lot of it is getting lucky, he acknowledged, “but the only way to get lucky is to get out there and work on it. Often it doesn’t work out. But sometimes it does.”
Pants on Fire Every Day
At All Points Travel in Salt Lake City, meanwhile, Corina Johnson also has been looking to hire.
“We are just slammed,” she says, “and the pattern is just so different than in years past, with so many short-term bookers. At the end of May, we were still getting requests for travel to Europe in June—so it just feels like every single call is drop everything. And we’re also getting these pie in the sky requests; they want a week in Europe, with one night in Paris and two in Rome and two in Dubai, and two in Amsterdam.
“I call it ‘pants on fire every day.’”
It’s just too much for her, her three ICs, and her three full-time employees. So she’s been looking for one assistant and one full-time employee.
Posts for the assistant position on LinkedIn and Facebook got a good response, “20-some-odd applicants in a week,” though most were not quite what she was looking for. There were a lot of F&B people with no office experience at all, three high school teachers ready to quit, and one retired postal employee looking to do something part-time that offered benefits. In the end, she hired a hotel front desk supervisor—“and she’s been great.”
But not one person applied for the travel advisor position.
Over her 30 years in business, Johnson says, every single new agent she hired started from the ground up—but like Caddow, she has no time for that right now; “I need someone who can come in and help relieve some of the stress we have—and a brand new person would not do that. It takes a knowledgeable agent to be able to qualify people and speak to them honestly and truthfully before you spend hours spinning your wheels on something that may not work out.”
But hiring experienced agents who left the business and want to come back, or want to change agencies, also is a hurdle, she says—”it gives me heart palpitations to think of the process. Our industry doesn’t have a way to it easy for advisors to switch agencies, so getting experienced agents is difficult.”
For now, she is focused on hiring assistants in the background—and on keeping the employees she has.
“I’ve found that I have to find ways to help them not get burned out on those days and weeks that we are overwhelmed and flooded with new calls. I can’t have them leaving me. So I look for ways to incentivize them.”
Fam trips are one good incentive—but double-edged swords, as every trip means fewer people in the office.
“It’s a hard balance,” she says. “We have to be very strategic to make sure we have staff coverage while they are gone—and so other agents don’t feel like everything is dumped on them. I do cover fam trips for my in-house agents, but they don’t get to pick. We decide together which will be the most valuable; they don’t just get to go off because it’s fun. I’ve never sold a single Egypt trip, for example, so an Egypt fam is not at the top of my priority list.
“I am happy to see more fam opportunities coming online,” she says. “We need them. But my agents can’t just go because it sounds like fun.”
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.
As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent, and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business, and technology sectors.