“Definitely tougher than this time last year”: AFTA and agents plead for return of JobKeeper

Piggy bank with Face Mask, Financial crisis and market crash due to virus spread.

The suspension of the trans-Tasman travel bubble and COVID-induced domestic border closures and restrictions have prompted renewed calls for more government support for Aussie travel agents.

With an estimated 15,000 jobs have already been lost in Australia’s travel sector, the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) said support measures anchored to employment like JobKeeper are needed now more than ever.

Australia’s travel agents have so far secured an estimated $8 billion worth of credits and refunds for COVID-impacted travel back from hotels, airlines, cruise lines and tour operators for their clients, according to AFTA.

However, the industry body noted there is still an estimated $2 billion outstanding, and agents are providing this support with little to no income as a result of the international travel ban.

“Whichever way you dice it, Australia’s travel agents and businesses are doing it tough, and it’s definitely tougher than this time last year when JobKeeper provided structural support in protecting jobs,” AFTA chair Tom Manwaring said.

“Consumers need us now more than ever to help, and we need wider and ongoing government support to be able to support the massive effort being put in right around this country by our travel agents and businesses.

“We are a people business. Right now, every agent is 18 months into near-zero income and the lack of cash flow clashes with the ongoing business and payroll costs.

“We were the first hit and will be the last to recover and, without support, a tipping point on massive job losses is looming. JobKeeper provided a simple, equitable and meaningful solution to protect jobs.”

Glenn Checkley, managing director of Travelonline, said that since the Greater Sydney lockdown was announced, the Brisbane-based online travel agency’s weekly turnover has fallen by over 80 per cent.

“Hundreds of bookings for families from Sydney and Melbourne heading to the Whitsundays, Port Douglas and Queenstown, New Zealand were all cancelled,” he said.

“I’m sure we are not the only business based in a non-lockdown area who are severely impacted and not receiving support. We need JobKeeper and rent support back, even if it requires strict turnover reduction tests to ensure the waste of Jobkeeper 1.0 isn’t repeated.

“At the moment, businesses like ours are the forgotten businesses.”

Carole Smethurst, managing director at Bicton Travel, said: “At least this time last year, we were able to sell domestic travel, but now with the yo-yoing of state border closures, consumers just aren’t confident in booking travel.

“We are in a worse state now than we were at this time last year – at least then we were receiving some government assistance.

“Consumers were happy to shift bookings for 2020 travel forward to 2021, but now they no longer want to do that. They want to cancel because they’re not confident that they will be able to travel.

“I had 29 staff pre-COVID. I’m now down to five full-time and three casuals, and I will do whatever is necessary to keep my team together. JobKeeper would allow me to breathe.”

Featured image source: iStock/AlenaPaulus

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