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To emerge stronger from COVID-19, travel agencies will need to reskill their workforce in four critical areas

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Forecasting the shape and recovery of the travel industry is almost impossible. However, we know from past crises that building up critical workforce capabilities is a necessary step in recovery.To this end, Amadeus has today released a new report, The Travel Consultant of Tomorrow, which found that more than 50% of business leaders within the travel industry regard people are the most critical success factor. While technology is offering new frontiers, people continue to be at the heart of customer experience.

However, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the need to enhance workforce skills. Even before the current crisis, new technologies and ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees needed to do them. In 2019, the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work stated, “Today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete.”

In the travel agency workforce, more than one third of business leaders (35%) said that competencies, recruiting and retaining the right talent were their biggest concern. Many travel agencies said they struggle to find people with the right technical skills to build, implement and manage new technology, alongside uniquely human abilities such as creative thinking and problem solving.

In a travel era defined by rapid change and ongoing disruption, travel agencies will need to ensure their workforce has the right skills and technology to compete and deliver better journeys. AI and automation will see the role of the travel agent become more dynamic, as the World Economic Forum describes, “Personal travel assistants who are partially data scientists, partially lifestyle gurus.”

Speaking to industry leaders, Amadeus has today released identified four critical areas it has identified in which the travel workforce will need to reskill:
1. Evolve from being travel bookers to travel consultants The rapid adoption of AI and smart technology will see travel agents evolve from being travel bookers
to well-rounded travel consultants. In Amadeus’ report, 46% of business leaders will invest in automation over the next five years, followed by dynamic pricing (35%) and mobile strategy (35%).

These technologies will free up travel consultants to spend less time on simple tasks such as office administration and booking flights and offer more personalized support to travelers or businesses.

The travel consultant of the future will need to provide expert, specialist advice, be able to navigate technology, and develop a regular rapport with clients.

“The most important thing is the experience – so holding the customer’s hand throughout the journey, ‘till that person departs from the airport, being with them throughout the journey until they return.

The people we have are quite experienced. I think that’s where knowledge helps us to differentiate. A lot of other companies don’t focus on knowledge management and, because of that, the knowledge is not retained in the organization. It becomes more like a transaction rather than an experience.”

– Amit Madhan, Group Chief Information Officer Thomas Cook, India
“The consultant has moved from being more transactional in nature, in providing a more contextbased advice on what works best for that traveler and for the purpose of their travel as well.”
– Ali Hussain, Chief Innovation & Technology Officer, ATPI, Singapore
2. Master the fundamentals of travel and digital technology Having the right blend of technology skills throughout the travel agency workforce will be crucial,
particularly when we consider the role technology has played during the pandemic. Through real-time data and travel technology tools, travel agents have been able to deal with massive reschedules and cancellations of tickets, while providing immediate and personalized customer service.

As technical skills become highly valued to travel agency businesses, travel consultants will need to have greater understanding of coding for their website and apps, analyzing traveler data for risk management and planning, and digital marketing to connect with online consumers. Social media skills training should be conducted for all customer-facing teams, not just the marketing department.

3. Build adaptability and resilience to manage disruptions effectively The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how critical it is to plan and prepare for disruptions. Travel consultants will be expected to have access to the latest border control guidelines, safety protocols at the destination and onsite cleanliness updates for the hotels and services they’re arranging.

“Travel employers should consider how to motivate and upskill a workforce that may need to manage disruptions for travelers and corporation remotely. There are a couple of ways to do this, including proactively looking for agility and adaptability skills in hiring processes, creating multi-disciplinary and diverse teams, enable different channels for travelers to contact you during disruptions and provide real-time responses to travelers’ requests. Managing a disruption is not an easy feat, so partner with technology companies who can alleviate the impact of the crisis and offer relief measure solutions such as organizing refunds or exchanges for air tickets or cleaning queues for cancelled segments.”

– Renaud Nicolle, Vice President Business Travel, Asia Pacific, Amadeus

4. Strengthen emotional skills to foster stronger customer relationships In these challenging times, a differentiator for travel agencies is the ability to connect with customers on an emotional level. For travel consultants, this means being seen as more than a “travel-booker”, by honing in on interpersonal skills to listen and connect with what matters most to travelers. “Creating empathy, whether that’s through personalization or simply through better communication
or managing the workflow of nonessential items, I think this will become more and more relevant.” – Ali Hussain, Chief Innovation & Technology Officer, ATPI, Singapore