The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) has called for an urgent response from the federal government regarding a critical support package for travel agents who have been decimated by the COVID crisis.
Kate Carnell said close to 1,300 distressed travel agents completed the ASBFEO’s online survey last month and have been clinging by a thread as they wait to hear if there will be a lifeline announced by the federal government.
“These travel agents, most of whom are small businesses, need help now,” she said.
“Our survey showed that the situation is dire for these travel agents – 98 per cent of which told us their revenue has plunged by more than 75 per cent since COVID restrictions were introduced in March.
“More than half told us their revenue is down by over 100 per cent, meaning they have been paying out more in refunds, including previously made revenue, than they are selling in new business.
“It’s clear these small businesses are in a world of pain and a support package should be announced as a matter of urgency.”
Carnell acknowledged the hard work agents have been doing to negotiate refunds from travel companies for their customers, and that, according to the survey, more than half of these small businesses would have already closed down, if not for their commitment to ensuring customers were reimbursed for the holidays they could no longer take.
“Travel agents have been faced with enormous challenges to get back the deposits paid to travel providers such as offshore cruise ship or tour companies on behalf of their customers,” she said.
“A number of travel agents have complained about Qantas specifically, in terms of the length of time it is taking to refund customers.
“If these small business owners were to walk away now, customers would be unlikely to get a refund. That said, travel agents are losing money by keeping their businesses open as they try to do the right thing for their customers.
“With international travel restrictions likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, this is an incredibly difficult situation for small businesses in the tourism sector, but travel agents are among the hardest hit and they will need targeted support to continue the important work they are doing.”
Carnell’s comments come as The Daily Telegraph reported that federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham met with Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) chief executive Darren Rudd along with individual agents as the government continues to consider the level of support it can offer.
After revealing that agents would be receiving some sort of financial support at Travel DAZE 2020 earlier this month, Rudd later told Travel Weekly that the process was “frustratingly slow”.
AFTA has opted for a 12-month – rather than an 18-month – bridge back to business, and essentially moved from an initial $125 million ask for sector-specific support to a $250 million ask.
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