Online travel companies are considered a ‘cool’ place to work, but their growth has also put pressure on the industry’s low wages. Neal baldwin reports
You don’t wear a suit to work, can ‘break out’ for a skinny latte three times a day, and you brainstorm new ideas in the company ball pond. And it’s the job everyone wants.
Forget a traditional nine-to-five existence; working for an online travel company is about having a laugh and being able to tell your mates how much fun you’re having while they are toiling away somewhere else.
Of course, it’s not (all) true. But the myth pioneering dot-coms have dispensed with convention and let staff play games of table football while dreaming up new marketing strategies has done wonders for their recruiting.
AA Appointments managing director John Tolmie admits: “The strength of brands such as Lastminute.com and Expedia means it’s easy for them to mop up some of the best talent. The online players major on the fact they are young and trendy, and people love the idea of working for them because of the ‘cool’ factor. Consequently, these companies often get double the applications a traditional retailer or operator might expect – this means they are more likely to find a good person for the role.”
The growth of online business has also put some inflationary pressure on travel’s notorious low pay. Although the evidence is anecdotal, recruitment companies across the industry suggest the rapid pace of growth of the many travel start-ups has helped wages rise.
“Certainly if you are in technology or a business analyst, it doesn’t matter who you are employed by – Tesco, Amazon or Thomson,” says Tolmie. “The travel company might be a bit more glamorous, but you want the wages too. Travel sites have had to compete with other online sectors, and that means providing the money. Discounted travel benefits are often part of the package, and that is seen as an attractive perk.”
Similarly, the desire online businesses have to reach maturity – and start making decent profits – as quickly as possible has meant they have been forced to offer a short-term compromise to improve the wages on offer. This is particularly true in the more senior roles, explains Argyle Executive Recruitment director Rick White.
“Some big name companies are growing so fast they constantly need to bring in new faces,” he says. “The likes of Expedia are very well funded, and not afraid to seek out the best talent, whether it’s from inside travel or not. In middle and senior management, the wages keep pace with other industries. It’s the only way to attract staff.”
C&M Travel sales manager Barbara Kolosinska explains: “Two or three years ago, if you had online experience you were virtually guaranteed an interview. It’s not so much the case now, but these candidates are still in a strong position. Traditional retailers and call centres are all developing web operations and value experience highly.”
But while web travel businesses might have been good for the industry as a whole, what of the growth of online recruitment? (See box, right).
Ironically, given travel’s reputation for going direct at the first opportunity, companies have been unable to cut out the recruitment agency ‘middle men’. The reason? Again, it is travel’s popularity.
Check out any travel website and you are almost certain to find a ‘careers’ section advertising vacancies. And while it might be a great way of generating applications, the volume of responses advertising this way brings makes for a time-consuming HR headache.
Tolmie says: “When the Internet took off, everyone predicted the death of recruitment agencies, but the opposite is true. In actual fact, we are here to sort out the good from the bad and exercise some quality control. Every day we get around 300 applications and employ somebody full-time to look at them.”
Like its rivals, C&M posts vacancies on its own website and on up to 10 dedicated online job boards. It now claims around 95% of all candidate registrations come via the web.
But Kolosinska admits it could not drop traditional trade advertising, since this is the only way to ensure those currently in the industry see vacancies.
“If travel companies want to attract a high volume of staff, for example seasonal overseas reps or cabin crew, then getting candidates through their own sites might be the way to do it.”
The web has other uses too. Forget the days of hiding the job pages from your boss now e-mail has arrived.
“Candidates can register with us and we’ll fire off an alert when a job they suit comes up,” said White. “But job hunters can be right across Europe for the more senior roles, so the competition has certainly increased.”
Job hunters log on to benefits of online search
European job hunters are increasingly searching for new careers online – with the French leading the way.
According to research by online measurement company Nielsen//NetRatings, one in four Europeans with Internet access are now looking at recruitment sites such as Monster or Totaljobs.
The figures, for the period to July-September 2005, represent a unique audience of more than 29.4 million people. Significantly, the numbers are up 25% on the same months in 2004.
French users appear to have the greatest appetite for job sites, with 35% of its seekers logging on. Germans (26%) and the Spanish (23%) follow behind.
While Britons rank fifth in the European league (20%), there is evidence that UK job hunters are increasingly switching on to the benefits of online search.
Separate figures from Nielsen//NetRatings into career development reveal that more than 3.4 million Brits used the web to hunt for a position or apply in November 2005 – a leap of 101% on the year before.
Nielsen//NetRatings European Internet analyst Alex Burmaster says: “Job seekers no longer have to wait for the publication day of their chosen newspaper or magazine and then spend hours trawling through these various publications to find the few vacancies relevant for them.
“Now they can just register on a site or two, insert their specific requirements, sit back and see all the vacancies delivered to them.”
Burmaster says candidates are increasingly using the web to research companies before apply for a particular vacancy, meaning they don’t have to engage in time-consuming activities such as telephoning for information or visiting a library.
In addition, the availability of sites offering tips on how to write covering letters and CVs means web-savvy candidates are better prepared than ever before.
On the negative side, however, the Internet gives companies a much larger pool of potential candidates, meaning competition is increasingly fierce, says Burmaster.