TMCs Sweeten the Pot for U.K. Biz Agents
It’s a good time to be a business travel agent in the U.K. Demand for experienced staff is up. As a result, travel management companies are boosting benefits to attract new hires and retain existing staff.
“Those travel consultants with three to five years of experience are like gold,” said Anne Godfrey, chief executive of the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC).
“Business travel agents are already better paid than their counterparts in leisure, getting pay rises in line with inflation.”
But when it comes to recruitment and retention, “salaries are at the bottom of the pile,” from the employee perspective,” she said. “More flexible benefits and more generous benefits make a much more attractive incentive package.”
Finders’ fees, child care & more
In 2010, just 48% of the guild’s members offered staff incentives, such as finders’ fees, for new recruits. By November, 2011, 60% of TMCs were offering some sort of incentive for staff.
Child care vouchers were easily the most popular incentive, offered by 90% of TMCs, up from 76% in 2010.
Another common incentive offered by U.K. travel management companies is a transportation benefit. Interest-free loans to buy discounted season tickets for public transit were offered by 90% of TMCs in 2011, up from 81% in 2010.
The biggest single gain came in enhanced maternity and paternity leave. The share of travel management companies offering this perk more than tripled, up from 10% of TMCs in 2010 to 32% in 2011.
The second biggest gain came in flexible benefit packages, which more than doubled from 20% of TMCs in 2010 to 42% in 2011.
Array of flexible benefits
These flexible packages allow employees to choose from a menu of benefits that typically includes private medical insurance to supplement the U.K.’s National Health Service; bonuses for cycling to work; retirement contributions; life insurance for employee and/or partner, and dental care.
Also: buying and selling vacation time; subsidized parking; vision care; health club membership subsidies; personal accident insurance; travel insurance, and wine club membership.
Financial support for job-related education also jumped. In 2010, 58% of business travel agencies offered some sort of study packages to help agents improve their business and industry knowledge. In 2011, 70% of agencies offered the same benefit.
TMCs hiring leisure agents
Godfrey said business travel agencies are beginning to drop their longstanding resistance to hiring experienced leisure agents and training them for corporate work.
The Guild of Travel Management Companies is “trying to get TMCs over that particular hurdle,” Godfrey said. “We are helping agencies set up conversion courses to boost agents who want to make the switch.”
That could be good news to leisure agents who expect to lose their jobs later this year as Thomas Cook begins closing an expected 200 retail locations around the U.K.
“It is a real opportunity for TMCs to pick up seasoned staff who are ready and anxious to make the change,” she said.
Fewer sabbatical leaves
The one incentive that is falling out of favor is sabbatical leaves. In 2010, 70% of GTMC member companies offered sabbaticals. For many agents, an unpaid sabbatical was an attractive alternative to losing their jobs.
But in 2011, only 50% of GTMC companies were still offering unpaid leave.
“They pulled back because they needed their staff back in the office to handle the increase in travel,” Godfrey said.