How to recruit top talent in a recession, as told by experts

Recession is coming. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know the next couple of years are looking bleaker than a Game of Thrones winter.

But, travel peeps, we weathered a pandemic, so we sure as sh*t can get through a blip in the economy. #amiright?


Because failing to prepare is preparing to fail, Lightning founder Chris King took part in a panel discussion on ‘Driving recruitment and developing talent: finding the right people’ at WTM 2022. Moderated by Mark Frary, Co-founder and COO of Travel Perspective, they were also joined by Justine Paech, Associate Director at Michael Page Technology; Sarah Hillman, Global Head of CRM and Data for The Travel Corporation; and Alessandra Alonso, Managing Director of Women in Travel.

Read on to get the experts’ top tips on how to recruit top talent in a recession.

  1. Move with the times

You could sit and reminisce about how much better things were before Brexit, or COVID… Or you could open your mind to the new opportunities in front of you, says Justine. The reality is: we’re living in a different world now. Today’s top talent has different priorities shaped by a taste of what flexible working enables them to do outside of work. 

So, if you want to attract (and retain) the best employees, you need to be more flexible and agile. Offering good parental leave or the ability to study part-time could be the cincher for hiring the candidate you really want.


Will the recession quash the rocketing salary expectations many hiring managers have been reporting in the past year? Maybe. More likely, if you can’t compete with those expectations – which, let’s be honest, many travel businesses can’t (or won’t) – you need to offer something money can’t buy: time and freedom.

  1. Focus on your values

When it comes to attracting talent, the brands that do better in hard times think about their employer brand and communicate their values, says Sarah. After all, competing with other industries on salary is often a non-starter, and travel benefits have somewhat lost their glimmer since the world locked down. 

So, think about your recruitment strategy beyond the job spec. How do you enrich your team’s lives – not just their bank accounts? As Justine points out, it’s not just about salary: it’s about ethos.


Chris highlights the recent move by Virgin Atlantic to make their uniforms gender-neutral – a great way to express their inclusive values as a business. This wasn’t only a signpost to the LGBTQ+ community: applications doubled as a result of the campaign, proving brands that actively support marginalised communities will attract top talent.

For the youngest generation in the workforce, diversity is a key driver in their decision-making about where to work, says Alessandra. When hosting a panel with Gen Z about harnessing diversity to attract talent, they reported asking about a company’s ED&I policy and community work before enquiring about salary.

  1. Back it up with action

People are savvy, says Alessandra – they can spot inauthenticity a mile off. And if they don't see themselves on your website, they won't come to you. So, make sure your ED&I policy isn't a box-ticking exercise and is actually fundamental to the way you do business. Sarah agrees, describing diversity as good for talent, good for business, and good for recruitment.

But surely travel is more diverse than many industries? Sarah says that’s not enough. As Justine points out, while positive steps have been made towards greater diversity at a junior level, middle- to senior-management is where diversity is still a big issue. So, what’s the next step? 


Chris thinks one way to make the industry more welcome for trans people – and indeed for any marginalised group – is by simply recognising them. They also recommend unconscious bias training for all employees. As an industry, we need to be better, Chris says. So, educate yourself. And if you see or hear something that doesn’t seem right, call that person in on it. 

Discussing retention as it relates to recruitment, Alessandra asks the question:  Why do people stay with you? Because they're proud of who you are and what you represent. Embracing people in all their varieties makes your brand more attractive to customers and employees, so focus on education, open-mindedness, and not running from opportunity. Of course, it’s also crucial to be inclusive or diversity does nothing, she adds. Chris recommends making sure you’re looking after your current staff before you go out to market – wellbeing packages can be one piece of that puzzle.

  1. Build a LinkedIn strategy

Like it or loathe it, a comprehensive LinkedIn strategy is crucial for companies looking to hire top talent, says Sarah. But don’t just focus on your niche: you should also do your bit to raise the profile of the travel industry in general – using hashtags like…#traveljob #traveljobs #travelindustry

Justine suggests running a ‘Day in the Life’ campaign featuring not just the C-suite, but any employee keen to get involved. This sort of human-centric, value-driven content is powerful for making your company more attractive – in one instance increasing applications by 50%, she recalls. Her advice? Embrace LinkedIn: it is the future.


Algorithms hate sales content, explains Chris. They point to the increasing popularity of video on social media, putting it forward as a way to give staff a voice – whether it’s telling their story or sharing insider tips.

  1. Think long-term

Thanks to the Great Resignation, explains Sarah, there are more vacancies than there are people to fill them. That means businesses not only need to be more open minded with your recruitment strategy, you also need to think ahead. Since the candidates don’t currently exist, she recommends devising a five-year plan to bring them through. Actively hiring for diversity can be a key contributor to a promising pipeline because it increases your talent pool, meaning you could nab promising hires your competitors are overlooking.

With (credit) crunch time looming, Justine says you should ask yourself if you have the right people to help see you through the next two years. The one benefit of a planned recession, she points out, is that you have a bit of time to decide how you can use this opportunity to raise your profile and become more attractive. Take tech: the travel industry is predicting a 12% increase in tech requirements, yet only 6% of people at university are studying tech. With such a shortage of talent, we need to think about how to attract future candidates to our industry. And fast.

  1. Think outside the box

Remember you shouldn’t only look in one place for talent, says Alessandra – try different opportunities and strategies. Sarah agrees, suggesting you think about recruitment how you think about sales. Chris, too, encourages a more strategic, audience-focused approach: market your job, they say. Put some personality in your job descriptions – and, for goodness sake, make them gender-neutral.

It's about giving opportunities to people who might not have the skill, but do have passion, interjects a hotel manager from Trinidad and Tobago. Justine agrees: taking more time to recruit passionate people is a long-term strategy that pays dividends when the traditional talent pool is running dry.


If you’re not sure where to start, or you simply don’t have capacity, Chris suggests partnering with a specialist organisation – Saira Hospitality and Fat Macy's are just a  couple of the amazing options out there. Alessandra encourages businesses to reach out to Women in Travel, so they can support by introducing you to underserved communities – many of which they train, mentor, and develop.

Reach out to your current recruitment partners, too, suggests Justine. If you specify that you’re looking for help with diverse recruitment strategies, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you get back.


Follow the Contributors on LinkedIn

Justine Paech, Associate Director at Michael Page Technology

Sarah Hillman, Global Head of CRM and Data for The Travel Corporation

Alessandra Alonso, Managing Director of Women in Travel

Chris King, CEO here at Lightning Travel Recruitment Ltd


Whilst you're here, you can also watch Chris + Alessandra chatting all things Allyship in Hospitality at the Independent Hotel Show - they're a bit of an iconic double team nowadays!

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Thea Bardot

26th November

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