Western Australian travel agents will be able to access support from a new $3 million state government fund to help sustain their businesses as they deal with the impacts of COVID-19.
Funded by the WA government’s COVID-19 Industry Support Fund, the program is the first and only dedicated support program in the country for agents.
The initial rollout of the program will provide packages of up to $5,000 to eligible home-based agents and minimum $10,000 packages to eligible brick-and-mortar businesses.
The state’s Small Business Minister, Paul Papalia, said travel agents have been one of the industries most impacted by COVID-19, with up to 90 per cent of their income drawn from Western Australians travelling overseas.
“The federal government’s international border closures will continue to severely impact these businesses for some time to come,” he said.
“The state government recognises the important work local agents have been doing to refund customers’ travel credits and vouchers from airlines, hotels and tourism companies right around the world.
“This support fund is designed to provide some assistance to travel agents to maintain their operating expenses until the federal government devises a longer-term solution.”
To be eligible, agents must be legitimate small businesses with a current registered Australian Business Number (as of 20 March 2020), and have experienced a 75 per cent or greater reduction in turnover due to the impact of COVID-19.
Applications for the support package open on Friday 2 October and close at 5pm on Friday 30 October, with the state government’s Small Business Development Corporation to contact WA agents direct with information on how to apply.
Agents who have not been contacted by Wednesday 23 September are asked to email email@example.com.
The program is in addition to the WA government’s existing COVID-19 support measures for small businesses, such as commercial tenancy laws to protect small businesses from the impacts of the pandemic.
Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) chief executive Darren Rudd thanked the WA government for what he described as a “critically important initiative”.
“Travel agents have effectively been locked down from day one of the pandemic as a result of international border closures and will be the last to recover,” he said.
“Each and every travel agent in WA and around Australia has been hit by revenue falls of 90 per cent and more. Despite this, they continue to work hard to support their customers.
“So far, a massive $6 billion dollars has been successfully repatriated by travel agents from airlines, hotels, and tour operators to customers. There’s still $4 billion to be worked through. This is an arduous, time-consuming process.”
Rudd said the new support package is important recognition of this work.
“AFTA has been working closely with all governments at all levels including in WA to make sure they understand the need for immediate, tailored support,” he said.
“I also want to acknowledge the tremendous effort of local travel agents who have been tireless in putting their case.
“Christine Ross-Davies of Attadale Travel & Snow Travel Experts and Jo-Anne Francis of Global Travel Solutions deserve particular acknowledgment for their extraordinary efforts.”
AFTA’s boss said agents right across Australia are being proactive in taking their needs to government in what is “their darkest hour”.
“This is the first time that agents have sought help,” Rudd said.
“They have successfully navigated many challenges before that have impacted travel, but this is a situation like no other and without tailored support, the situation is dire.
“We are confident that, increasingly, government understands this.”
The Cruise Lines International Association’s Australasian managing director, Joel Katz, said more than 80 per cent of cruise holidays were booked and managed by agents, whose survival was essential to the future recovery of Australia’s travel industry.
“While this package will go some way towards assisting travel agents, it is vital that discussions take place to support a long-term plan for the revival of the travel economy,” he said.
“Cruise lines have been working tirelessly on extensive new health measures to uphold safety when the time is right to resume sailing, and it is important that governments help open a pathway towards recovery for an industry worth more than $5 billion a year to the Australian economy.
“With new health measures in place, we see an opportunity for carefully managed domestic or state-based cruise operations initially for local residents only, which would protect Australia from outside infection while borders remain closed.
“Travel agents are among more than 18,000 Australian workers who rely on cruising and support cruise tourism to dozens of communities around the country.”
Featured image source: iStock/AlenaPaulus