Travo Business Breakfast: Investing in people is a price worth paying in the war for tech talent

Travo Business Breakfast: Investing in people is a price worth paying in the war for tech talent

Mal Barritt of Traveltek, Laura Davis of Gail Kenny Executive Recruitment, Richard Piper of Webloyalty, and Sarah Hillman of The Travel Corporation discussed the biggest issue facing travel firms today at our event on the second day of the TravelTech Show in London. The event was sponsored by Webloyalty and Battleface.  

The travel sector must offer more competitive salaries if it to compete for the digital talent it needs, but also do more to promote itself as an employer to a wider cohort of people.

The latest Travolution Business Breakfast took place last week in London as technology suppliers and travel firms met for the annual TravelTech Show at the Excel exhibition centre.

Our panel of travel and technology brands addressed the war for talent that is waging globally and how the travel sector can do more to ensure it digital and tech skills.

Laura Davis, director Gail Kenny executive recruitment, said travel must start benchmarking its remuneration against other sectors it is competing with.

“Let's have the salary conversation, it is an issue,” she said. “and particularly if businesses haven't been recruiting for the last two or three years, 

“You're trying to recruit now perhaps based on salary expectations you would have recruited at three years ago, and that just isn't going to cut it. 

“We have got to move forward in salaries because otherwise this scenario will not get solved we'll just be moving people around and it will get harder and harder. 

“As an industry, we need to do a better job of benchmarking roles against other sectors rather than just benchmarking within travel so that salaries are competitive.”

Mal Barritt, chief executive travel software specialist Traveltek, revealed he had just lost a senior engineer to a Silicon Valley company for a £75,000 pay increase.

He said the firm could not match that but he said there are way that travel and technology firms can be competitive despite the lack of supply of talent.

“We are faced with potential challenges in the tech sector so it's really important to understand what's driving that.

“Of course, COVID, Brexit and the Ukraine war has put a lot of pressure on companies with cost of living going up and people are demanding increases in their salaries. 

“But looking at it on a broader scale, the biggest challenge that we are facing in the UK at the moment is the investment that's gone into technology. 

“In 2020, there was £11 billion invested in the tech sector in the UK, in 2021 that was £29 billion. That has created new tech but it's also created a huge number of vacancies. 

“There's actually 580,000 additional vacancies that have been created in the UK in 2022 as a result of that investment in 2021. 

“That's just put more pressure on everybody and, of course, with COVID-19 the operating model has completely changed where people work remotely.”

Barritt said Traveltek has focussed on diversity and seen particular success recruiting women which account for 40% of its workforce compared to the industry average of 25%.

Sarah Hillman, global head of CRM and data at The Travel Corporation, said firms must adapt to the new skills that are required within their business.

“Investment in tech is going up, so the size of our department is increasing and that comes with its own set of challenges. How do we compete for people that aren't there?

“You can't just be a technologist anymore. You have to be quite commercial. That technology decision is now a commercial decision. It wasn't like that 15 years ago. 

“You can't be a business person who doesn't understand technology so, for us, it's how do you recruit those skills in but also how do you have this shared language? 

“How do we get technologists thinking commercially and how do we get commercial people a bit more aware of how to ask the right questions when it comes to technology and data?”

Hillman said with travel currently in the headlines for the wrong reasons as the sector struggles to recover from the pandemic, firms need to do a selling job when recruiting.

“We use LinkedIn when we're advertising roles because the first thing people do is look on LinkedIn for proof of the stability of the company.

“We also always use #traveljobs because even if they're not interested in my job it's about how do we get people interested in the industry? 

“It's interesting for us to work out how we get to people who traditionally are very human oriented and interested in tech. 

“We're trying to balance bringing tech talent in but taking travel people and getting them to understand that technology jobs are as interesting. 

“It’s cross-skilling travel people into tech roles and balancing that with bringing technologists into what, I think, they consider to be a bit of a legacy industry.”

Richard Piper, business development director at Webloyalty, said: “Travel is perceived as being about the front end, the people you see.

“We’re not necessarily promoting it from a technical point of view, all the stuff that works in the back office. 

“So it's about going out to universities, and it's probably before university, you've got to hit them early enough before they make that choice of what to do. 

“The next generation is thinking much further ahead than we did. Ther is much more choice and we need to be influencing that choice as early as possible.

“There's almost a sales element within HR now. People coming in as new employees need to know a lot about you before they even come into the interview.”

Davis added: “As an industry we need to do a much better job of demonstrating that travel is not just about being a travel agent or a product manager.

“You can have an amazing tech career within the travel sector, and we need to get that message out. 

“The candidates we talk to are interested in what are they going to get to do. What amazing cool tech are they going to be using? How are they going to contribute to the business 

“When we look at digital and tech candidates, they are less focused perhaps on the sector, they're driven by doing great things having access to new technology. 

“So it's demonstrating the journey the business on. What are they going to get involved in, how are they going to help the business on its journey and what value are they bringing.”

Barritt said: “I've seen people advertising on LinkedIn and shoving up a job description that’s four or five pages long and it looks so drab and dull, and boring and old-fashioned.

“You’re just not going to get anybody if you don’t sell it yourself. When it comes to recruitment the way we sell ourselves hasn't been good enough. 

“The brand or the company will have to work harder because we're all trying to fight for the same resource that almost doesn't exist.” 

Davis said while recruitment is firms’ number one challenge employers have to understand how roles are changing.

“The skill set that businesses are now needing looks very different in a lot of areas, particularly digital and tech. 

“The demand that we're seeing is very different particularly for digital product owners, there’s massive demand and really short supply, but also a focus on customer experience. 

“CRM, data scientists, loyalty and using technology to really understand the customer experience, we're seeing a massive demand for those types of roles. 

“Gone are the days of the traditional marketing manager. Any kind of marketing based role is very strong on technical digital marketing, SEO and paid search. 

“Demand is absolutely outweighing supply and I think as businesses are coming out of the pandemic digital transformation is even more of a priority. 

“Everybody we talk to are saying the number one challenge facing their travel business currently is recruitment and so it's high on the agenda.”