Travel Agents

“Am I the only one in the travel industry calling BS on the celebrations?”: Agency boss on JobKeeper 2.0

You may recall his brilliant piece about mental health and seeking support earlier this month, and now Platinum Travel Corporation’s Andrew Buerckner has put fingers to keyboard once again.

The topic of Buerckner’s latest blog is the recently announced JobKeeper 2.0, which he said drew a fine line between gratitude and relief, and criticism of its details, for Australia’s tourism industry.

“To say [JobKeeper’s] been a lifeline for the travel industry would be the understatement of the century,” he wrote.

“It’s given our business a chance to keep our team together, and it’s undoubtedly held our economy together. For both of these things I am truly grateful.

“But am I the only one in the travel industry calling BS on the celebrations here? I mean, let’s be clear: we weren’t singled out.

“The collective campaigning and efforts of AFTA, ATIC, ATEC, ACCI and other industry personnel to call attention to the specific and overwhelming effects of COVID-19 on the travel industry seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

“The staff who can afford to stay on with us past September will receive the same support as businesses whose revenue has recovered substantially – who have any revenue at all.”

You can read Buerckner’s latest blog in full below:

JobKeeper. To say it’s been a lifeline for the travel industry would be the understatement of the century. It’s given our business a chance to keep our team together, and it’s undoubtedly held our economy together. For both of these things I am truly grateful. (I’m acutely aware, too, of how privileged we are to receive government support in Australia at all; when hundreds of countries and colleagues around the world have been left out in the cold.)

But am I the only one in the travel industry calling BS on the celebrations here? I mean, let’s be clear: we weren’t singled out yesterday. The collective campaigning and efforts of AFTA, ATIC, ATEC, ACCI and other industry personnel to call attention to the specific and overwhelming effects of COVID-19 on the travel industry seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The staff who can afford to stay on with us past September will receive the same support as businesses whose revenue has recovered substantially – who have any revenue at all.

But as I said on Sky News last week, the vast majority of travel businesses and operators are still in negative revenue. There’s no runway for earnings with borders closed. We’ve lost 2019 revenue, 2020 revenue and have only blind faith that things will improve in 2021. Surely a more targeted approach to the severely impacted would have been fairer? Would have been a more effective use of taxpayers’ money? Tiered levels of support based on direct impact to business revenue, maybe, rather than on pre-COVID employee ‘hours’ – many of which may have largely been recovered?

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the initial rapid, blanket approach of JobKeeper’s roll-out for the sake of getting it out to market and supporting businesses and employees in immediate financial (not to mention emotional) distress. But they’ve had four months now to consider JobKeeper 2.0, and all I can see is the same initiative… with less support for those who need it most?

I used what I thought was a pretty clumsy example of Nike trying to survive if the government banned feet in a recent LinkedIn article, but was surprised how much it resonated with people. So, here’s another one: is it right for a local gift store in Perth with revenue 31 per cent below their pre-COVID levels to benefit from the same wage subsidy as those industries who are down 90 to 110 per cent and counting? How hard would it really be to tier support based on tangible operational impact? We have to provide the data to qualify anyway! 

For the record, we’re not asking for special treatment here as travel agents. We want to be lumped in with our friends in other heavily affected industries like entertainment, hospitality, and the arts. I’ve had countless conversations with friends and family in the theatre and restaurant businesses in the past few weeks, and believe me, their concerns and frustrations mirror our own. They’re calling for the same revenue-tested tiered approach as we are.

There’s a fine line between gratitude and relief for [Wednesday’s] announcement; and criticism of its details. It could have been a disastrous day. But here’s the thing: I might be a travel business owner, but I’m also a taxpayer. And, like you, I want every dollar funding this scheme to be activated in pursuit of real recovery: in pursuit of the stand-alone, competitive businesses the travel industry has been home to in the past. But we can do neither of those things if we have no products to sell.

Recent reports show a current monthly JobKeeper burn of approximately $11 billion. After September, this number is expected to fall to $2.8 billion. Surely this is a sign that fewer businesses will be in need of support come September? So why are we reducing it for those who need it now more than ever?

You tell me. (Actually, I’d bloody love to hear from you.)

SEE WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

One response to ““Am I the only one in the travel industry calling BS on the celebrations?”: Agency boss on JobKeeper 2.0”

  1. It has been suggested that industries like ours should be allowed to fold because a) there are alternatives online and b) once the borders open there will be new people willing to re-start the industry. The support to date has been a god-send and I’m grateful for every cent we’ve received.

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