Staffing Challenges in COVID Times

27 September 2021

It’s hard enough managing staff during a normal year, but what do you do during a pandemic when travel, and income, are fluctuating so dramatically as the virus changes and travelers alter their plans as well? Do you add staff to prepare for the expected growth? And how do you pay for it? It’s best to answer some key questions to make the best decision for your company today, and for the future.

It seems like a never-ending tornado that keeps cycling and morphing, sometimes petering out to where the light at the end of the storm grows bright, then collapsing in once again on itself as a new wave of turmoil fuels the funnel, the circling, and the uncertainty. Such is the past 18+ months worldwide, and especially in travel, during COVID times. Among the uncertainty has been an incredible amount of financial consternation ranging from negative cash flow to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan confusion to staffing supply versus consumer demand yo-yos. Companies large and small have weathered this storm with the utmost of grace and strategy, often fooling consumers with the aura that “everything is just fine here.” Meanwhile, the staff size of January 2020 has dwarfed into a skeleton crew doing anything and everything to drive and satisfy the demand for travel each day. 

It is perhaps the greatest concern I have heard from executives across the travel landscape these last few months, and especially the past few weeks with the rise of the Delta, Lambda, and Mu variants globally. “How should I staff right now?” So, we dove into that question with many different people to assess the question–and found, as often happens, there is not one proverbial answer. However, here are some questions to contemplate that may help you get to the right answer for you, your business, and your guests–both today and tomorrow. 

Resource Bandwidth

  1. Are your current resources properly aligned with the demands of today? Can you reconfigure any roles of active staff, or minimize any areas producing little to no ROI?
    • This might be an excellent time to realign the organization. If you are very functionally based, look at evolving into a matrix organization. For example, cross-train team members in other areas. Your sales team may be more efficient by working as a collaborative sales and operations team right now. 
    • You may only have a skeleton crew. What are they working on that keeps the lights on today versus for the long-term? There needs to be a balance. 
  2. Will an increase in staff ensure growth? Is it the only way to grow through the pandemic? 
    • Perhaps an existing team member can focus exclusively on business development.
    • Delve into your marketing to ensure it is as strong as it should be to attract new travelers through your digital channels including your website, email strategy, and social media.
    • Communicate with your database and develop a plan around each segment of your travelers–active, inactive, and prospects.  
    • Focus on the basics of your company: product, operations standards, and your specific success metrics and trends. 
    • Defining your brand ethos often leads to greater sales than any other exercise.
  3. What is your current resource bandwidth right now? Do you have enough staff to manage a 10% - 20% increase in bookings? 
    • Look at where your team members’ individual bandwidth is now compared to when you are at 100%. Do they have the ability or time to increase their workload? If they do not, offload daily tasks that are not contributing to sales growth. 

Creative Financing 

  1. Do you have the liquidity to hire any staff right now? Even using creative financial models including a commission model or hybrid?
    • One option is to build bonus tiers for individual staff based on making revenue milestones. 
    • You may also bring back, or hire, a team member at 10 hours per week on a salary/commission or bonus model. 
  2. Have you applied for an EIDL, PPP (if in the U.S.), or other loans? 
    • There are not only governmental loans, but also grants for many organizations to utilize during this time. 
  3. Is there the ability to job share with another company, or hire a temp?
    • Do you have a complementary company, supplier, or vendor where you could share staff resources? This can be a great way to add minimal expense while gaining additional time and knowledge from a part-time team member.
    • Either bringing on a temporary worker or a consultant can be an excellent way to maximize certain needs in the company, whether it is database improvement, digital marketing investment, or sales business development. You can define the time required and the expense for the project without a long-term commitment.

The one thing that is hopefully clear for all is that at some point, the travel industry will emerge from this exceptional period. It will not look or operate the same as it did before, but we may be better for it, not only wiser but also utilizing more sustainable principles that can withstand future challenges. The choices that we make now will pave the future, whether it’s focusing on improving the basics of the company’s operations, developing better marketing to attract travelers, aligning with others to extend reach and resources, or building staff through development. For while we pray that there is not another pandemic such as we have endured these last 18+ months, we know that there will always be pivot moments whether they are large or small, industry-wide or specific to your company, and we can and will persevere and flourish. As many of us have always lived by, “it is the journey we celebrate, not necessarily the end destination.”

The ATTA Career Center is a resource for finding qualified job seekers in the adventure travel industry. Learn more here.