In the last few years, at the insistence of my clients mostly, I’ve become an accidental travel industry recruiter. It has opened my eyes to a few things, some of which I’ve ranted about previously.

But the thing that strikes me the most is a sense that much of the fun and sparkle has gone from the game. Sure, airlines, wholesalers, hotels and cruise lines are offering sexier ‘product’ and customer experience than ever before. But they also seem more miserly than I can ever remember when it comes to lurks and perks for their staff.

We’ve always known that ‘travel’ has never really been a highly-paid industry except for those at the very, very top. But most ‘travel people’ were generally prepared to accept a pretty average salary in lieu of great travel benefits that pushed their happiness and engagement buttons. If you worked for an airline a decade ago, you’ll probably remember free flights for you and yours, or perhaps massively discounted fares for extended family and friends. And upgrades. Wonderful upgrades. Lounge access and a real glimpse into life on the posh side of the curtain.

And even if you weren’t exactly where you wanted to be, there was an endless procession of famils and industry functions and events and networking nights and prizes and champagne. OK, maybe too much champagne.

Now, I haven’t been to one of those excellent events in ages without having to pay an arm and leg to attend. That either means they’ve dwindled away too, or I’m not getting invited. Either way, that’s upsetting.

As I toil away with my recruiters hat on, I find myself wondering where the up and coming, bright and lively young-guns are? Look, I’m sure there still out there, but I suspect we’re not replacing the bright-young-things as fast as they’re leaving the industry. And that is leaving us with a shortage of consultants in leisure, corporate and the wholesale space. With the squeeze being applied to the currency of fun, and salaries stagnating year after year—few starting salaries have changed for 15 years—and the cost of living rising relentlessly, why would you hang around?

I think it’s time the industry had a good look at itself. People love travel—it’s what gets many of us out of bed each morning. But if the carrot being dangled is a stand-by jump seat on a red-eye to Dullsville, what’s the point of living on next to nothing?

The result? Fewer fabulous people in the employment pool, and low morale that means high staff turnover. Rinse and repeat.

I keep banging on to employers that they need to change what they’re doing. They need to be disruptive and stand out from the crowd to attract the best candidates and—at a higher level—entice more fabulous folk to the industry. A bog-standard salary and the business card with a prestigious logo on it no longer cuts it. Great people, more than ever, are looking for flexibility, fun and high value travel benefits.

Seriously, the travel industry, it’s time to bring the sexy back.

Questions, anyone?

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