Stock Jobs and Recruitment
Travel agencies in the UAE are busy ramping up staffing lost between 2020-21. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: UAE’s traditional travel agencies are back to hiring for entry- to mid-level roles as the sector recovers in full from a two-year pandemic. Candidates who also have had experience with online travel portals are also valued in the new demand cycle.

While there is enough demand in the market, many of the experienced staff have moved on to other careers after the initial job cuts of 2020.

ATS Travel, which mostly focuses on corporate travel, had to slash its workforce to around 80 from 250 during the pandemic. The company, which has offices in UAE and Saudi Arabia, is now struggling to build back its staff numbers.

Saleem Sharif

Unfortunately, we have not been able to get them back because most of them have gone into other industries – we had to let go of some really good staff and finding it challenging to get the right talent from the market

- Saleem Sharif, Deputy Managing Director at ATS Travel

ATS is looking to fill a range of roles, right from travel consultants to C-level executives. “We signed with a recruitment firm which is helping us source talent, mostly from the Subcontinent,” said Sharif. “We are looking for travel consultants, who will be client-facing, as well as some c-level executives to drive our business verticals.”

Average salaries
According to job portal Gulf Talent, travel agents, with 6-10 years of experience, make about Dh5,500 per month. Those with more than 11 years of experience can earn about Dh7,000 per month. Other websites peg it at a much higher level.

According to Salaryexplorer, a person working as a travel agent in UAE typically earns around Dh12,000 per month. Salaries range from Dh6,130 to Dh18,500.

An agent with less than two years of experience makes approximately Dh6,800 per month, while someone with an experience level of 2-5 years is expected to earn close to Dh9,000. Those with 5-10 years of experience in the industry can fetch a salary of Dh12,600 per month.

Salaries are a “little” better than 2019 levels and ATS has considered giving a hike to employees, said Sharif, who adds the firm, which has a niche client base, already offers salaries on the higher end of industry expectations. A ticketing staff starts with around Dh9,000 and can earn up to Dh17,000.

Salary hikes, but selectively

For some travel firms, offering higher pay scales is not an option yet because profit margins have not returned closer to 2019 levels yet. Abu Dhabi-based Omeir Travel agency is hiring freshers and training them from scratch. “We are bringing in new blood into the industry, but training can be time-consuming,” said Mohammed Halabi, Executive Director at Omeir Travel Agency. “As training goes on, there’s a lot of pressure on our existing staff as we continue to serve the same number of clients.”

We haven’t reached our 2019 staffing numbers yet - it’s not easy to find talented people post-pandemic as some have changed carriers and even if they do return, they want higher salaries.

- Mohammed Halab of Omeir Travel Agency

Another UAE-based travel management firm said it plans to take in around 4-6 consultants every month, without specifying a time period. One of the agents told Gulf News that the company is poaching senior-level staff from rival firms by offering a better pay package.

The company’s entry-level consultants have a basic pay of Dh7,000 and, including incentives, employees can draw around Dh12,000-Dh13,000. Even the training period has been slashed from six months to just a month, said the source, adding that companies expect consultants to take up more work for around the same pay. “They have less staff, so they expect you to do a lot of work, and there wouldn’t be much of a hike since businesses are not profitable yet.”

Job requirements

For those looking to enter the industry, knowledge of airline global distribution systems (GDS) - used to book and sell tickets for various airlines – is essential. “Every travel management firm has its own tools and platforms, but GDS knowledge is the key factor,” said a travel agent. “They should know some background on airlines too, like their codes.”

Industry sources also said knowing the latest Covid protocols helps on the job. Although restrictions have been relaxed to a great extent, there are some markets that are still fully or partially closed. “When a customer is making plans to fly to another country, there’s a certain degree of uncertainty and that’s where the travel agent jumps in with their knowledge of the market,” said another travel agent.

Tourist numbers catch the waves
Apart from being a tourist destination, UAE is home to millions of expats, and this puts UAE’s travel firms in a particularly advantageous position. Around 7.28 million foreign nationals visited Dubai in 2021. Of which, nearly 900,000 were Indians. Saudi Arabia came in second with 490,000 visitors, followed by Russia with 440,000.

Before the pandemic, the number of visitors was on the rise every year. In 2015, the total number of international tourists accounted for 14.2 million. The figure rose gradually over four years, touching 16.73 million in 2019.