A catalyst for change: New ways of working for the travel and tourism industry

The travel and tourism industry has been one of the most affected sectors by the coronavirus pandemic. As the Job Retention Scheme ends, the burning question on every senior leader’s mind will be workforce and what next?

In anticipation of our Employment Strategies Surgery at ABTA’s 2020 Travel Convention, we conducted a survey with 255 of ABTA’s members which focused on workplace and employment issues for the winter season and beyond. 

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Headlines from the survey 

Travel       60 per cent of businesses expect to return to booking volumes and values experienced pre-lockdown during 2022
Travel       89 per cent of travel businesses made use of the Job Retention Scheme 
Travel       90 per cent of businesses returned to active operations by mid-September
Travel       50 per cent of businesses expect to see more working from home in the future
Travel       40 per cent of businesses are looking at changing their operational footprint

It was promising to see that more than half of businesses expect bookings to return to pre-pandemic levels during 2022. This hope for the future illustrates the resilience we’ve seen from the travel industry time and again as global events hit trade. 

Whilst the pandemic is seen by many as a short, sharp, shock, what’s clear now is how reliant the sector has been on the furlough scheme. As the scheme falls away and is replaced by the new Job Support Scheme, what might this mean for the sector?

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Job Support Scheme

84 per cent of respondents expected to make use of the furlough scheme until the end of October. This backs up expectations that travel will be amongst the sectors utilising the scheme the most out of any sectors in the UK.     

The Government’s Job Support Scheme available from the start of November is designed to retain the jobs of businesses that are still viable, but operating at reduced capacity. The scheme promotes short time working for 77 per cent pay, that is 22 per cent reimbursed to the employer by Government. With over 60 per cent of travel businesses surveyed already using a short time working strategy for employees (less hours, less pay), it might seem on the face of things that the new scheme is a good fit to replace the Job Retention Scheme.

Yet for a sector where customer refund obligations and reduced bookings makes maintaining cash-flow tough, it’s unlikely that the Government’s new scheme on its own will be enough. The upfront cost will simply be too much to bear for many cash-strapped travel businesses.

New ways of working 

Half of the industry expects to see more home working in future, but only 22 per cent anticipate this to be on a full-time basis. Coupled with the fact that 40 per cent of travel businesses are looking to change their operational footprint, it seems that the industry is gearing itself towards a new flexible way of working. 

Flexible working comes with its own set of challenges and it’s important that businesses engage their staff through workplace surveys (41 percent of respondents had carried out staff engagement surveys). A survey and its results will enable a conversation between employees and the business to set expectations for new working practices. Also critical is to document the changes to workforce terms in legal agreements to manage future workforce claims risks.

Inevitable change and skills needed to thrive 

Times of upheaval such as those we find ourselves in now, often create shifts in consumer and business behaviour that remain for generations to come. The pandemic is no different. During lockdown we saw online trade gain considerable market share away from the highstreet with non-essential stores closed. UK retail sales data shows these habits are now entrenched, as a demographic of consumers who shied away from shopping online are now here to stay. 

So, what might this mean for the travel sector? The online experience is going to be more important than ever. Our survey shows that 25 per cent of businesses are planning on investing in new technology for their business. Yet only 15 per cent of businesses said they would be focusing on hiring staff with a different skill set in future. 

Now is the opportunity to focus on recruiting new skills, or to reskill those employees already embedded so you can be ready with a ‘digital first’ approach when pre-pandemic booking patterns return. 

What does the travel sector need now? 

What we need to see now is more support from Government to get the sector through this period. In the meantime, businesses should systematically address the options open to them in terms of workforce restructuring, governmental support, operational considerations and getting match-fit for when pent up demand is released.

To see more of the findings from our survey, fill your details in below to download the full report.

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