‘We Need a PR Campaign to Attract Travel Advisors’, Says Alex Sharpe, As Travel Agencies Scramble for Staff | Travel Research Online

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‘We Need a PR Campaign to Attract Travel Advisors’, Says Alex Sharpe, As Travel Agencies Scramble for Staff

Part 1 of a 2-part series on staffing. If you have a tale to share for Part 2 about where and how you have found new staffers, email Cheryl at crosentravel@gmail.com.

From Cheesecake Factory to Starbucks, across cruise lines and hotel chains, every US business suddenly seems to be overbooked and looking everywhere for potential new hires. And travel agencies are no exception.

The phones are ringing and the long wait times on hold with suppliers eat up precious hours of travel advisors’ days. On top of that, many are calling in sick as Covid takes one more swipe at the travel industry, and many more are out of the office on their own long-postponed vacations, at training sessions they have put off for months or years, or on one of the abundant number of fam trips offered up when things were slow.

“Staffing is the number-one issue everywhere,” says Alex Sharpe, and the biggest concern of the attendees at Signature Travel Network’s quarterly Owners Meeting in New Jersey last month. “And hiring is the #1 opportunity for agency owners. Everyone is hiring, and everyone wants to hire more than what they have hired.”

 

 

ASTA has been advocating for the value of a travel advisor for years, he noted—but now “we are all down staff; work is more complicated than it’s ever been so everybody is stressed to the hilt, and then you have regional training meetings like this one coming back. My contention is that now is the time for us to shift as an industry to promoting the value of working in the travel business. We need to market our industry.”

Indeed, the US job market is ready for this opportunity to become a travel advisor, says the Signature president and CEO. The Great Resignation taking place across the nation is due to people looking for more flexibility in their work, and more rewarding jobs. “And ding, ding, travel is that,” Sharpe says. The answer to their dreams could be working for a cruise line or piloting an airplane—or being a travel advisor.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity to share with people that careers exist in travel and tourism, and particularly as a travel advisor. It’s an issue the whole industry can get behind,” Sharpe says. “Why are we all in it? You can make money in this industry but we’re in it because it’s so fulfilling.”

The Owners Meeting spent a lot of time talking about the aging of the industry and what the new generation of travel advisors should look like. “Our issue is not that young people don’t want to enter the industry; it’s that the old people don’t want to leave,” he says. “We need to be reaching out to young people, to second-career people, to folks who just want greater value in their career.”

Where to Start?

So where should a travel agency owner look for new employees? The number-one source is customers themselves, and referrals from customers. Post your travels on social media and “prime the pump by talking about what we do, why we do it, and why we love it.”

Also proving successful is hiring people with strong backgrounds in customer service related to fields other than travel. Since training in travel takes so long, though, successful travel agency owners also are thinking outside of the box, maybe hiring these new employees from other industries as travel advisors who stay behind the scenes and just handle bookings, for example, freeing up the existing salespeople to just sell.

At the quarterly Regional Educational Forum that followed the Owners Meeting, consultant Nolan Burris said agency owners need to lift their sights beyond LinkedIn to be successful in recruiting in this job market.

“Recruiting is marketing for people,” he said. “It’s not like the old days where you have a 40-character ‘seeking F/T travel advisor’” classified ad. Now you have to sell getting into the business. Your ad needs to say, ‘Want to help other people see their dreams and see the world at the same time? Let’s talk about a career in travel.’”

Keep in mind precisely whom are you looking for and where you can find them, Burris said. Join groups and bulletin boards where retired teachers and realtors roam and post something like “Interested in the travel industry? Looking for a side gig or a second career? Give us a call.”

In the audience at the Educational Forum, meanwhile, Iris Citron, director of leisure travel at Alice Travel Worldwide in Verona, NJ, acknowledged the agency is struggling with the “tons of offers” of fam trips that are pouring in and diluting her already-stretched-thin staff.

“Fams are very important. When I owned an agency I made sure two agents were on a fam trip at all times,” she says. “But you have to pick and choose carefully.”

While the agency owner does his best to spread out the invitations he receives, and to accommodate everyone’s desire to travel, “You can’t let everyone go to everything,” she says.

 


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.

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