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“The travel industry has been the sacrificial lamb”: CATO bigwigs plead with Tourism Minister for financial aid

The Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) has pushed for post-JobKeeper financial support from the federal government during a meeting with Tourism Minister Dan Tehan this week.

The delegation consisting of CATO managing director Brett Jardine, chairman Dennis Bunnik and board member Brad McDonnell met with Minister Tehan in Canberra on Tuesday to highlight the complex nature of the travel industry and the important role of the land supply sector.

Jardine said Australia’s Tourism Minister was engaged and interested in learning more about the sector and the impacts of COVID.

“We were able to explain the importance of protecting highly-skilled jobs and their key to ensuring continued business operations, enabling the redemption of travel credits for consumers, and allowing Australians to travel safely once borders reopen,” he said.

Minister Tehan heard about CATO’s longstanding relationship with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and members’ roles in helping to repatriate Aussies during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

CATO also explained the impact of the pandemic on the financial and emotional wellbeing of members and the broader travel industry.

“Whilst we understand the need to close borders, the travel industry has been the sacrificial lamb that has enabled our communities to remain largely COVID-free and the wider economy to recover,” Jardine said.

“Whilst the government continues to restrict our trade, it is vital that it provides support to enable us to survive.

“This support should include continued wage subsidies, grants to help cover overheads, and government-backed loans with delayed repayments to bridge the cashflow gap between now and when international travel actually recommences.

McDonnell and Bunnik were able to provide details of the direct impact of COVID and government border policies on their respective businesses, Entire Travel Group and Bunnik Tours.

In response, Minister Tehan immediately arranged for the CATO delegation to meet with the senior economic advisor for Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

During this meeting, and a further meeting with Austrade, Jardine said CATO was able to delve into details on the support the industry will require post-JobKeeper.

“The government has repeatedly stated that JobKeeper will finish as scheduled at the end of March,” he said.

“Whilst they understand the need for further travel industry support, they are yet to finalise any assistance packages.

“As such, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan encouraged CATO and the entire travel industry to keep campaigning their local members on the impact of COVID and the ramifications of ending of JobKeeper to the tourism industry.”

The travel industry has shown a united front in Canberra this week, with Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) chief Darren Rudd also in the capital to meet with political leaders.

Bunnik briefed Rudd on the outcomes of CATO’s meetings, with the two organisations working together to ensure aligned messaging.

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