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The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the tourism industry skilled and experienced staff, and has also painted the industry as volatile, making it that much harder to attract new skills.
While Yolanda Woeke, Vice President: Sales and Marketing for Dragonfly Africa, is optimistic about the future of tourism in Southern and East Africa in particular, she says when demand picks up, there are concerns that there will be a skills and experience shortage in the industry.
She points out that some people in the industry have had to find other employment in other fields and some have opted for early retirement, the latter applying especially to the most experienced staff.
Private Safaris CEO for Southern Africa, Monika Iuel, says once business volumes resume, the experienced, versatile and well-trained staff will likely be the first to return, but they could also be lost should a recovery take too long.
“The bigger risk is that these staff have a greater ability to pivot to another industry, and the industry at large may lose them permanently,” she says. “This risk is directly linked to how long a recovery period lasts – the longer ex-staff need to survive without a tourism industry, the greater the chance that they find employ elsewhere.
“DMCs and their suppliers invest a great deal of time, effort and money in getting consultants trained and exposed to destinations and product. Being forced to let staff go in order to survive means that this is sunk cost, at least in the short term,” says Iuel.
Woeke says: “We want to re-employ our staff as soon as realistically possible,” but adds that some people will definitely have joined other industries. “Hopefully, we can encourage them to join us again. There is a passion for tourism and hospitality that is second to none for anyone working in the industry. It is such a specialised field – especially incentive travel. You have to have the passion, service attitude and destination knowledge, all very specific skills to be successful as an Account Manager.
Over and above the loss of skilled and experienced staff, the damage to the industry’s reputation makes tourism an unattractive career choice. Iuel points out that this is particularly challenging because the tourism industry already struggles to attract the right talent.
“In the tourism industry we have always struggled with the impact that a poor educational standard and the poor travel culture in South Africa has on the calibre of candidate that applies for a job in tourism.” She says the industry is not very well paid, so the most attractive candidates often elect to pursue a career in a better-paid industry.
Highlighting the need to attract new talent, Woeke says: “Our staff are our most important asset so we must make sure that there are also young people that want to enter and make this their career choice.”