Travel Agents

“It’s about doing the right thing”: Penny Spencer joins calls for the release of $74 million in unallocated funds

Industry stalwart Penny Spencer has joined calls for the government to release the remaining $74 million of the COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Program after it was decided the funds were not needed.

During a Senate Estimates hearing for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on 17 February, an Austrade official said the original $258 million fund was an overestimation of how many businesses would be part of the program ad what the income would be.

“You’ll recall these payments are based on income, and we had imperfect data sources. We overestimated the number of businesses and their income, which meant that at the end we have $74 million from the allocation that hasn’t been needed,” the offical said.

According to the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), there have been massive issues with the rollout of the program, including a lack of government understanding of the travel sector, what a travel agency does and how the travel payment process works, as well as inconsistent application of the support program eligibility criteria.

The lobbying group said the process for anyone applying for support has been “arduous, stressful and at times cruel”.

“This shows not only a lack of empathy and understanding of the sector but also ignores the multiple complaints made to Austrade about its management of the allocation of funds and the many, many errors throughout the process,” AFTA said in a statement.

“It’s worth noting that the program was designed to provide support through the period to 30 June 2021. There has been no further Federal Government support for the past 9 months, despite travel within and to/from Australia being severely restricted.”

Spencer, who is managing director at Spencer Travel, said calls for the government to release the one third that remains of the funds isn’t just about keeping small, medium and multi-store businesses alive in communities right across Australia, “it’s also about doing the right thing by consumers,”.

“We’re helping Australians manage up to $6 billion worth of outbound credits for COVID-impacted travel,” she said.

“We still don’t have a date for the resumption of cruise and even once we have that it will take months for international cruise lines to redeploy ships to Australian waters.”

Spencer urged the government to lift the cruise ban and distribute the unallocated funds to the thousands of travel businesses still hanging on.

“What other sector has experienced 700+ days of revenue falls of 90 per cent and more? We are desperate for support and we need action now,” she continued.

“Our businesses were very successful and experiencing growth before Fortress Australia kneecapped us two long years ago.

“We have seen a noticeable lift in calls from new and returning clients since the international travel ban was lifted but bookings are almost all for 2023 and beyond.”

Michael Chase-Smith, executive director at Orbit World Travel, echoed Spencer’s message, adding that the government’s actions were a “massive kick in the guts”.

“Leisure travel is still at record low levels, and we are also trying to get our business travellers back in the air both domestically and internationally,” Chase-Smith said.

“It will take all of 2022 to get travel back to reasonable levels and even longer until we can truly cover our staffing costs and be able to encourage experienced travel people back into the industry.“It’s difficult avoiding harsh language but this position is simply unfair, unjust, unreasonable, and untenable! Two years of Covid and subsequent border restrictions and now war in Europe and local flooding – how can the government not support us after all we have been through and still going through?”


Image source: YouTube/ABC News



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