Beware of the people crunch in Asia as online travel booms
I’ve noticed recently that when running Asia-related events in places such as Australia (where I’ve just been) and in Europe (where I was in March), there’s a strong interest among youths in the sessions.
I suppose it’s because Asia is now seen as the land of opportunity in terms of jobs, especially in Europe, where there’s a crisis of unemployment among youths.
In Madrid, for instance, local friends told me that their kids, just out of university, are not even bothering to look at home for jobs but are casting their net wider, and mostly to Asia.
It’s a no-brainer that at the rate global travel brands are expanding in the region they’re going to need a lot of people. Accor, for instance, will need 20,000 new members of staff by the end of 2015 to fulfil its development pipeline in the region.
It’s not only hotels that will need people but every piece of the travel supply chain – from the numerous low cost airlines that have been launched to the cruise companies that are sending in new, bigger ships to thousands of startups across the region hoping to grab a bite of the booming online travel market.
What all this means is a serious people crunch that could choke growth and that could also adversely impact the quality of service that Asia is known for.
Already, Singapore is showing the strains of a tight labour market with restaurants and hotels unable to keep up with customer expectations which are also rising in line with prices. Even the Singapore Girl is now being allowed to fly past the age of 50.
Despite the boom in travel and tourism, and official attempts to “sexify” the industry, the perception that the industry is about long hours and low pay persists and it’s not the first career choice for youths.
This, I’ve found out first hand from working with students at WIT and our Inspiring Young Minds initative, WITNext.
Yet when you speak to youths about working in travel, you see stars in their eyes because, yes, everyone loves to travel.
Their problem is a lack of awareness of the diversity of jobs available, and really once you get into it, how rewarding it can be – perhaps not financially but emotionally and intellectually.
One problem too is the lack of industry mentors and contacts during “the moment of truth” – that moment when you are about to leave school and get a real job.
At WITX-Women In Travel, held in Bangkok in late April, I asked Blanca Menchaca, one of the bright young sparks working at Wego in digital marketing, the one thing she would have liked to have at that moment of truth and she said:
“A mentor, someone to speak to.”
Just this morning, I received an email from a Singapore Management University student, about to graduate, how she can get into the industry and who she could talk to.
The biggest lack of awareness is in the travel technology field which is rapidly expanding in Asia but faces a people crunch in terms of developers and marketers.
The industry as a whole needs to understand how this might play out and what to do about it.
It would be a shame, after all, with all the growth the region is experiencing that the one element at the beating heart of the sector – its people – could be adversely affected.
NB: We created a WITNext Summercamp for this year, in June 21-22 in Singapore. The 1.5 day programme takes students, job seekers and school leavers through three phases: personal coaching; sessions to understand the industry at a strategic level; and bootcamps around specific job areas and career opportunities. This initiative also includes the The Dream Job Pitch.
Siew Hoon Yeoh is the editor-at-large for SHY Ventures and editor/producer of WIT-Web In Travel.
She created and manages the travel insider website The Transit Cafe and also runs WIT - Web In Travel, Asia’s leading travel distribution, marketing and technology conference, and the weekly WIT newsletter.
In 2008, WIT was awarded the Most Innovative Marketing Initiative by the Singapore Tourism Board. Siew Hoon is also an established speaker and facilitator at travel industry conferences and workshops.
She is also is a published author, having written titles including “Truth, Lies & Other Stuff” and “Around Asia in 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries”.