What are you worth?

shoes2By Louise Wallace

The gender pay gap has long been a prickly topic with no snap-your-fingers solution, and new research shows it’s still the proverbial elephant in the room. On a national level, the latest ABS statistics show that gender pay disparity is currently sitting at a record high of around 19%, with men earning almost $300 per week more than their female counterparts. And as the inaugural Travel Daily Salary Survey demonstrates, the travel industry is not immune.

The nuts and bolts of the survey – completed by 1749 Australian travel industry professionals – shows that the average salary stands at $63,940 with a bonus of just over $5640. That’s a total pay package just shy of $70K at $69,615. But a closer look reveals that females take home an average pay packet of around $63,500 compared to men who average a tidy $21,500 more each year at $85,000. That’s a hefty 25% difference.

The disparity continues right up the chain, with women entering the industry with an average salary of around $49,000 while males step their foot in the door at around $57,000. Females in middle management take home on average $61,000 compared to males at around $78,500, while women in senior management roles earn around $78,000 compared to a whopping $138,000 for males – almost double their female counterparts.

To be fair, more women work part time which drags down the average – 11% of females versus 3% of males to be exact – and significantly more women work in wholesale or retail consulting which pays just a fraction of sectors like aviation and cruise. But no matter which way you look at the data, women earn significantly less than males right across the spectrum.

While wage disparity has made global headlines for decades, Spencer Travel managing director Penny Spencer says the survey findings are surprising at the retail level. Flying in the face of the latest ABS stats, she says the gender pay gap has not historically touched the travel industry, with the latest figures most likely explained by the fact that men generally snatch top leadership roles while women tend to shy from the podium. Instead she says the burning question is why there are so few women in the top jobs. “I genuinely believe there should be more women in leadership roles, but for that to happen we need more support for women having children so that they can step into positions they are qualified for after they return to work,” she told travelBulletin.

A closer look at the stats shows that the aviation sector is the stand out performer, handing over a stout average salary of around $81,000 compared to a humble $60,000 for wholesale and retail. The hotel sector isn’t far behind with an average total income of $75,683, closely followed by around $72,000 in the meetings, incentives and conferences sector. Travel consultants also scrape in just a nudge above their colleagues in retail and wholesale with an average salary of around $62,000.

But before retail consultants consider throwing in the towel in favour of a job in aviation, there is room to move when it comes to the bank balance. Almost 60% of cruise employees received a bump in pay in the last 12 months, closely followed by aviation with 55% of survey respondents taking home a healthier pay packet in the past year. About the same number of people in the meetings and events sector saw a spike in their bank balance over the same time, while retail travel agents again received the short straw with 60% of respondents seeing no change at all to their income.

There is room to move up the chain, but employees in retail and wholesale shouldn’t expect to see too much of a spike in pay until they reach the top jobs. Wholesale and retail entry level roles lead in at an average $46,180 and $49,900 respectively and only incrementally increase to $58,000 for both sectors at middle management level. Cruise employees are a touch better off with average salaries increasing 30% to around $72,000 at middle management, and aviation follows much the same trend but with a better end result, jumping 27% from base to middle level and another 50% to an impressive $176,900 at senior level.
As Spencer explains, retail consultants are unlikely to see much change in pay at any level because there aren’t many tiers between entry level and top dog, and employees at the mid level are generally consultants who have taken on a few extra skills for minimal pay. But as inPlace Recruitment business manager Ben Carnegie explains, salaries at all levels remain sluggish and haven’t budged in his seven year history in travel recruitment. 

“The industry has a perception that entry level wholesale roles lead in at $40,000 and wholesale BDMs earn $55,000 – and the perception has stuck. Employers have an idea of what they will pay, and that hasn’t changed. And the reality is that they will find someone who will accept the pay and fill the gap,” he told travelBulletin.
Carnegie also pointed to an increasing trend where employers offer a “much lower” base with more incentives to cut costs. “More companies are looking at the bottom line and adopting the Flight Centre model to take advantage of their group buying power,” he said. “It’s an interesting move because it has greater earning potential for consultants with good client bases, but it doesn’t offer security to candidates.” He also questioned the effects on staff retention, claiming that Flight Centre generally sees staff walk out the door after just two years.

As the Flight Centre model shows, dollar values aren’t the only part of the parcel when it comes down to the thick of it. The perks are also worthy of a mention.
Around 60% of all survey respondents claimed to have received hotel discounts, with around 50% taking home air travel discounts and 14% receiving concessions. Flight Centre seems to have the most perks, with 86% of Flight Centre respondents receiving hotel discounts, 80% taking home air travel discounts, and over half of all respondents receiving profit shares. Travel Managers came in second place, followed by ITG and Magellan which saw around 62% of staff pocket hotel discounts and 49% access airline discounts. Helloworld came in under the average, with 57% of survey respondents taking home hotel discounts and 44% receiving airline discounts.

While aviation takes the podium on the pay scale, cash doesn’t necessarily equate to job satisfaction. For instance, retail consultants clearly take home the least cash – but they’re also the happiest employees across the board with almost 40% claiming that they’re not looking for new work and wouldn’t throw in the towel if approached about new opportunities. To put it into perspective, that’s about 10% above the average, with 30% of all survey respondents claiming they are genuinely satisfied in their current job.
Most staff in wholesale and aviation fall into the passive job seeking category, with just over 60% claiming they would take a better job offer. Over 20% of staff in the hotel sector are actively looking for greener pastures, along with 19% in aviation and 15% in wholesale. So it seems the old adage rings true – cash doesn’t buy happiness.
It’s a trend that is unsurprising to Spencer, who says the work life balance in retail agency environments trumps money for many consultants. The buzz of creating great holidays is also too good to trade for a cash sum, she adds. “Most retail jobs are suburban, close to home for staff, and have a real appreciation for work life balance. They can also job share and work part time, and they get to sit across the desk from people who are travelling for the first time,” she says. “They do it for the love of the job.”

Job satisfaction aside, it seems that supportive managers are what employees value most. When survey respondents were asked what matters, flexibility, career development and strong leadership were strong themes, along with recognition and a supportive environment which values work life balance. Employers must be doing something right, with most staff working in the same job for around six years and averaging an impressive 14 year stint in the industry. But whether it’s the pay, the perks, or the overall package, over half of all survey respondents plan to stick with it and stay in the same industry for years to come. And who could blame them?

The full Travel Daily Salary Survey report is available for purchase – for details contact us on research@traveldaily.com.au.