Comment: We must look at how to attract the next generation

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson says more must be done to show young people travel is a viable career

For so long, much of the industry’s focus has, quite rightly, been on the short-term outlook.

Between the three-weekly traffic light updates, continued cancellations and general uncertainty, it’s been difficult for most travel companies to look at business beyond the pandemic.

Now, with some semblance of stability creeping back into the market, it is time to begin to look forward and discuss, as an industry, what must be done to restore travel.

One of the most important conversations we should be having is about our people – about both existing industry professionals and new recruits.

We all know travel has been hurt financially, economically and operationally; however, an increasingly pressing concern is attracting and retaining future talent. With so much uncertainty over the last 18 months, it is only natural that would-be travel professionals have overlooked travel and tourism opportunities.

But, if the industry is to make and sustain a strong comeback, we need to address what needs to be done to create a pipeline of future talent.

Throughout my time in travel, I’ve heard so many people say that once you join the industry, it’s rare to leave for another sector.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced some great people to step away – and, of course, the industry has sadly lost people through business closures, market contraction and redundancies.

Pre-pandemic, travel was thriving and attracted people from all walks of life and from every level of education. Thanks to the general rise in demand for travel, as well as other factors such as aspirational platforms like Instagram, the appetite for travel – and the desire for a career – was growing at pace.

Change perceptions

Despite the real struggles travel has faced, I still believe it is one of the most enriching and exciting businesses to be in, but the challenge ahead to change perceptions is significant and is something we should all be turning our attention to.

Internally across the industry, we all know and love the benefits: great discounts on holidays, the opportunity to travel the world as part of your job, passionate people and, in usual times, an endless calendar of social events.

From a professional development perspective, I can think of few other industries where such extensive learning and training is part and parcel of the everyday role. We take in people of all ages in any usual year. It’s not uncommon to welcome new colleagues in their 30s, 40s, 50s – or even older – who are looking to get started in travel.

Showcase careers

However, the core market we should all be concerned about is how we attract the next generation of young travel professionals – and that starts in schools, colleges and universities.More must be done to educate young people that travel is an extremely viable career option.

And it’s not just about becoming a travel advisor or destination specialist – travel jobs come in all shapes and sizes. There are so many roles that make up our industry – marketing, IT, accounting, airport operations, resort reps, pilots – the list goes on.

Travel and tourism represents more than 10% of all jobs across the world, yet educational institutions place very little focus on these opportunities in disciplines with named courses.

The government and local authorities have a responsibility to demonstrate these varied career options through education and syllabus. But it is our responsibility to ensure we have visibility in the market and are having conversations with key decision-makers.

How we build back long-term will be determined by who we can attract and retain.

We cannot work in silos for this – it will take a collective industry effort to get travel back on track.

It is up to us all to let the future generation know that carving a career in travel will be the best decision they ever made.

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