Travel Industry Needs to Focus on Advisor Recruitment, Retention

The Travel Institute on Wednesday released initial findings from its study, “The Changing Face of Travel Agents 2023,” the third in a series of surveys to benchmark various aspects of the advisor role while also exploring new and evolving influences.

Among the initial key findings:  

The travel industry continues to operate as a gig economy, attracting advisors interested in part-time work with greater flexibility and independence than traditional full-time roles. Seventy-one percent of advisors identified themselves as independent contractors (ICs), while only 29 percent are employees. In 2018, 62 percent of advisors were ICs and 38 percent were employees, while 2008 represented a compete inverse to 2023 when 29 percent were ICs and 71 percent were employees.

Nearly half of ICs (44 percent) say they are now an advisor following a career change, compared to 31 percent of employees who said the same. Half of ICs work an average of 31 hours or more per week compared to 85 percent of employees who do the same. One-third (34 percent) of ICs classify their role as part-time compared to 9 percent of employees. Combining ICs and employees, 72 percent with more than 20 years’ experience work 31 hours or more weekly, while just 41 percent of those with under three years of experience do the same.

In addition, despite high job satisfaction for current advisors—74 percent “love what they do”—there has been a significant exodus of experienced advisors in recent years and there is further potential for today’s seasoned advisor population to “age out." In fact, during the pandemic, 36 percent of agencies lost seasoned staff, with 44 percent replacing that staff with a combination of experienced and new-to-the-industry advisors and 56 percent reporting that they did not replace the staff they lost.

In all, 66 percent of advisors are now over the age of 50, compared to 52 percent in 2018 and just 11 percent in 2008. At the same time, the “young” advisor population has declined—only 6 percent of agents are under the age of 35 compared to 11 percent in 2018 and 9 percent in 2008.

The trend of part-time work for ICs seems to mirror employment trends in other industries driven by personal interest, flexibility, a need for supplemental income and work/life balance. This trend, along with other survey responses, various media reports and renewed interest in consumer travel post-COVID, could signal a shortage of skilled available travel advisors to meet consumer demand in the next decade, according to Diane Petras, president of The Travel Institute. 

Petras said this is “both a wakeup call and an opportunity” for collective industry recruiting and retention efforts. Being new to the industry doesn’t necessarily mean the employee is young, as many, as identified in the report, have switched from another career. “As an industry, this is important for us to understand because we need to ensure we also have individuals in our talent pipeline who are open to a lifelong career in travel,” added Petras.

To that effect, Travel Leaders Network has been partnering with The Travel Institute to recruit and retain advisors through educational programs. “Demand for skilled travel agents is high and only increasing. We are putting our best efforts into meeting that demand,” said Lea Diele, senior director, educational services for Travel Leaders Network. “As an industry, we need to ensure the availability of educated travel advisors and also increase public awareness about the value they bring. Their skills, knowledge and resources are definitely worth our industry’s investment and well worth any incremental cost for travelers.”

Still, despite a third of travel companies losing seasoned employees through the pandemic, staffing and recruiting are not currently the top areas of concern for 2023 survey respondents. Instead, owners and managers cite the complexities of researching global regulations and traveler anxiety as top issues day-to-day in running their business. 

“It’s clear that the end of the U.S. COVID state of emergency does not mean COVID-related stress is over for travel agents,” said Petras. “A daily challenge for many agents ongoing is managing traveler anxiety related to COVID and other concerns. A professional travel agent is always balancing logistics with emotions, while maintaining their own desire to keep their clients safe and informed. That’s a lot for even the most experienced agents when you think of all the things that can happen before, during or even after a trip—COVID or otherwise—especially an international trip.”

Additional findings from "The Changing Face of Travel Agents 2023" will be released this summer, focusing further on the agent profile, the ongoing correlation between education and success, and evolving influences on agent learning and sales. 

Source: The Travel Institute

Related Stories

Second Edition of Wellness Travel Specialist Course Released

Veterans Can Win Free Travel Franchise from Dream Vacations

Avoya Launches Travel Advisor Education Platform

Carnival Debuts Event and Competition Series for Travel Advisors