Labor shortages at business travel agencies threaten recovery

Skift grip

Business travel is back, but for how long depends on the breaking points of the travel managers and agency advisors who make it possible in the first place.

Matthew Parson

Finding ways to deliver more sustainable business travel may have once been one of the biggest challenges for corporate travel managers, but that’s being replaced by something else: people.

There are now growing fears that travel services and the agencies they use may not be able to cope with the upturn; the labor shortage is clearly not exclusive to airlines and hotels.

According to a recent survey by the British Institute of Travel Management.

Due to staffing issues, new data expectations such as CO2 reporting and trip ROI came second, followed by reduced budgets. Tellingly, vendor resources and support came in fourth place, followed by legislative changes like Brexit.

“The workload, responsibilities and challenges (travel buyers) faced continue to reach record highs,” said Scott Davies, CEO of the association, which has 4,800 members who account for 76% of spending. business trips to the UK. Before Covid, that equated to $13.2 billion in air travel and $9.4 billion in hotel accommodation.

“These challenges are compounded as buyer roles have evolved to take on additional responsibilities over the past two years,” he added.

A crisis in the making

Across the pond, the complexities of travel are heightened by visa applications and passport renewals.

“If we have an international trip, it’s crazy how much time our agency spends with this person,” said Cindy Heston, director of travel and events at Anthem Inc. during recent online event.

“I even have a support person on our team who helps them get visas, and she works 80 hours a week. We have less than a handful of trips booked, but they are painstakingly obtuse in the time and effort put into each one,” she added.

The travel company told Heston that the call-to-transaction ratio was out of this world.

“The talent shortage has hit” said Lynne Griffiths, Founder and CEO of Sirius Talent Solutions. “Many people who have been laid off have secured roles outside of travel and are reluctant to return.”

An industry insider, who wished to remain anonymous, told Skift: “It’s a well-known fact in the industry that many corporate travel agencies are now struggling to recruit staff because they’ve let so many go during the pandemic, and now that corporate travel is returning, there’s a shortage of experienced people.

Meanwhile, as a consortium of UK agencies Global Benefits Network signals a welcome return in business travel demand, it has also noted that staffing issues persist.

“The two most pressing issues are the search for sustainability and recruitment,” said its boss, John Hobbs Hurrell. “People have moved away from the sector and found other roles. We need to do more to attract people to the industry. We will have to pay more.

Tom Walley, Global Managing Director of business traveleralso said he thinks his agency, which is part of Flight Center Travel Group, cut too many people during the pandemic: “We’re a few hundred people short.”

And a crew shortage apparently forced British Airways consider opening a temporary staff base in Madrid to cope with the summer peak and rent Finnair and Iberia planes, according to reports.

It is of course nervous to travel again, but many companies are now discovering that they simply cut too deeply at the start of the pandemic.

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