UK Travel Staffing Shortages Set to Peak in Summer 2023, But Industry Identifies Path Forward  

New research released by SAP reveals that the worst is yet to come for the UK’s travel industry as staffing shortages continue to challenge airlines and rail operators.  

In a survey of 401 senior decision makers from within the UK’s airline and rail operators, fifty-five percent of respondents say staffing challenges will impact customers’ 2023 travel plans with thirty-four percent believing it will peak in summer 2023. While, overall, twenty percent see challenges lasting through until Christmas 2023.  

SAP’s research also reveals that in addition to passenger and travel disruption, staffing shortages are having a profound impact on the industry’s senior workforce. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed say the added workload and stress will have a negative impact on their mental health. With the same amount admitting they’re worried they’ll have to take a pay cut if the challenges aren’t resolved. These pressures are also pushing one third (33%) to think about leaving the industry in the next 12 months.  

Leaders Clear on the Source of the Challenges  

In recent months, the travel and transport industry has faced numerous staffing shortages, leading to queues, delays and wide-spread disruption. According to the survey, senior travel executives from within airline and rail agree somewhat or strongly that these issues were largely impacted by an inability to forecast supply and demand to keep up with an unexpected surges in passenger numbers (40%); as well as a lack of collaboration or intelligence sharing between the industry and government (40%). For thirty-eight percent, Brexit is the cause, while for thirty-six percent, slow onboarding processes and excessive employee checks are to blame. Almost a quarter (24%) of those questioned say the industry faces irreparable damage and customer loss because of these issues.  

Scope to Stabilize the Industry 

The good news is that the industry overwhelmingly realizes that it needs to address these shortfalls, with a staggering ninety-six percent of respondents saying their ability to recruit and retain talent needs improvement. SAP’s research finds that both airline and rail leaders know exactly what they need to do to stabilize recruitment and source talent. They list their top three priorities as ensuring an optimized supply chain to ensure a constant availability of resources and equipment (34%), building a greater understanding of why employees leave and how they can retain them (33%); and better processes to speed up onboarding and checks for new hires, particularly for recruiting international talent (32%).   

Many worry sustainability sacrifices will need to be made 

Given the industry disruption over the past few years, it follows that UK travel leaders believe sacrifices will have to be made in order to ensure staffing pressures are relieved. Just a couple of months after COP27, as many as thirty-five percent of respondents state they’ll need to allocate budget away from ESG to address ongoing staffing challenges. This need to refocus budgets is particularly concerning as almost one third (30%) admit they’re not on track to meet their net-zero target; with almost another third (29%) revealing they’re still not taking any immediate action to reduce their environmental footprint.  

“Travel providers have seen some significant challenges over the past few years, and many have as a result amended or fundamentally changed their business and operating models. The pandemic, a strong focus on sustainability and changes in customer behavior underpinned by digital technologies have been accelerating factors in this transformation of the travel sector. There is now tremendous opportunity to reshape the future, especially for those rail and airline leaders who are willing to take definitive actions and utilise technology to make better informed and more predictable decisions,” explains Dominique Kunze, head of Telco, Media and Service Industries at SAP.  

“When we look at the workforce perspective, it’s encouraging to see that many are clear on why they’ve faced staffing struggles, what they can do to ensure the future health and wellbeing of their staff, and ultimately emerge on top. But they do not need to sacrifice ESG efforts in order to do so. There is a raft of cost-effective, flexible and carbon-friendly technology out there to help them accelerate recruitment and relieve workforce planning pressures. This allows travel providers to focus on what they do best – helping people get to where they need to be in the most environmentally friendly and cost-efficient way possible.”