Wholesalers

OPINION: It’s been a long time since celebrations

Justine Waddington

Justine Waddington

Every day our effervescent travel industry is losing its fizz, and with the JobKeeper extension announcement, I lost some more (of my fizz).

COVID chaos reigns and I didn’t pop open the bubbly when I heard the extension announcement… more like reaching for the Berocca to get back my bounce.

Living through the impact of COVID-19 on our industry couldn’t be more different to our days before. It was exciting each time a new a group was about to tour or head out cruising, and the little celebrations we enjoyed when we knew that someone would be taking their first-ever solo travel tour (and with us). Now, a very different landscape, as touring dreams are smashed and we’re sweeping up the broken pieces.

It’s why I was holding my breath about the JobKeeper extension news. For sure, I felt some relief with the extension announced, but I was also hopeful that the travel industry (and others like us) with revenue downturn at 100 per cent (and more) were going to get some special compensation. There are hundreds of Australian touring companies like mine that rely on free travel across our borders and, more importantly, across our international border.  Until we open up our borders and can come and go freely, tour companies and agents relying on international travel are probably the hardest hit.

The JobKeeper announcement delivered up a stark inequality between the recipients of the support: there’s the same level of support for companies with a 30 per cent or 40 per cent downtown and those with a 100 per cent downturn in sales.

The magnitude of the chaos and financial hardship unleashed on our industry is unprecedented and I think everyone in travel has fears for the entire industry. JobKeeper is geared for businesses that can move into recovery before the end of September, but while the border is closed, we’ll be in the same place as we are now when we move to the decreased JobKeeper payments.

We working as hard (or harder) than ever, but without the staffing and financial resources, we need to wade through the processes of ‘unbooking’  everyone’s touring plans. While other industries may have the option to hibernate, we can’t – we’re working for free to look after our customers. Or, where others can pivot their business for some incremental sales in the short term, in the world of touring, there’s no quick fix.

I’ve pushed on and it is exciting to be announcing new local tours in Australia, but already some were short-lived when the Victorian border closed, and some travel bans were put in place on Greater Sydney.

The challenge faced by touring companies are the long lead time for their sales. It’s not a simple retail transaction like buying a meal or drink. Travellers could be booking a tour as much as a year in advance or longer, which means that when we reach a recovery phase, the international touring sector will be the last to return to making money.

I don’t want to take away from the ongoing challenges of many industries, but it’s time now that our touring industry and the travel agent network takes some of the spotlight. However, right now it seems as though we’re getting a Band-Aid for the hits we (our industry) are taking when we need some plaster, then others are getting some plaster when all they need is a Band-Aid. Of course, this is a simple analogy and there are so many tiers of revenue loss across many industries, but I just can’t see how lumping all of us together makes sense nor is a good way to allocate taxpayer money.

The industry is robust and resilient, and we’ve weathered storms before, but this one is like no other. Maybe with some more insights into our challenges, including the long path to recovery, our governments could come up with balanced solutions, and we’d keep bubbling.

At the end of the day (or most days), I remember the silver lining: by next year, we’ll have a host of new tours that show off more of Australia that maybe we’d never have created otherwise.

Justine Waddington is the director of award-winning wholesaler Encounter Travel.


Featured image source: iStock/Ekaterina79

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