Australia’s tourism industry has heaped more pressure on the federal government to extend its JobKeeper lifeline, with some members even fronting up to Parliament House.
Despite domestic borders beginning to fall across the nation, with a trans-Tasman ‘bubble’ between Australia and New Zealand firmly on the horizon, the travel industry continues to face extraordinary challenges in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Industry groups have flagged Australia’s tourism sector will not see any real recovery until the end of the year, prompting widespread calls for the extension of the federal government’s $1,500 fortnightly JobKeeper wage subsidy, which is set to run out on 27 September.
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) said the single biggest challenge it is tackling is an extension of the program, and called for it to be pushed to at least 30 June 2021.
“Wages make up the greatest proportion of all travel industry costs, comprising over 50 per cent of operating costs of traditional shopfront travel agencies,” AFTA said.
“The JobKeeper program has been instrumental in enabling businesses, particularly SMEs, retain many trained and experienced staff while the economy is in hibernation mode.”
In a submission to the federal government’s coronavirus inquiry, AFTA said 82 per cent of respondents to a membership survey have experienced a 100 per cent revenue decline because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The federation warned there would be “resounding effects” from an abrupt end to JobKeeper, with 42 per cent of survey respondents flagging they intend to either permanently or temporarily close their business if the scheme is not extended beyond September.
It comes as airport workers today gathered outside Parliament House to appeal to the Senate to pass a motion reversing changes that shut them out of the scheme.
A recent survey by the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) revealed 70 per cent of aviation workers have been stood down from their jobs with almost 40 per cent stating they have no income.
Over 1,000 cabin crew, airline caterers, cleaners, baggage handlers, ramp workers, security officials, refuellers, and drivers responded to the survey, with almost 30 per cent stating they have had to access their superannuation to get by.
Almost half of all respondents are worried they won’t be able to support their families throughout the crisis while 20 per cent say they are worried they will lose their house.
Australian Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine, and senator Tony Sheldon will address workers in support of the motion.
“Aviation workers know that this is what the Senate does: it steps in when government action is flawed and corrects it,” Kaine said.
“Workers want senators and the federal government to hear how they have struggled since being stood down without pay.
“They want them to understand how it has affected their families, how they are struggling to pay bills and how they feel so let down and shut out through no fault of their own but because of the way their company is structured.
“All they are asking for is to be treated like all other workers in Australia who work hard and pay their taxes.”
Australia’s accommodation and hospitality peak bodies, Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) and the Australian Hotels Association, which have launched a joint submission to government, believe JobKeeper should be extended to at least 31 December to keep workers out of Centrelink queues and give financial relief to businesses as they reopen.
“It is highly unlikely hotel businesses will be back to their usual trade by the end of September, particularly with state and international borders closed, no major events or international conferences thus placing immense pressure on hotels to retain staff,” TAA chief executive Michael Johnson told Travel Weekly.
“A three-month extension of JobKeeper would assist in retaining as many jobs as possible.”
Johnson said some areas of the hospitality sector may need JobKeeper “through to March” or even later, suggesting location-specific extensions could work.
“Somewhere like Cairns that relies more heavily than other areas on the international market needs more special treatment than somewhere like Sydney or Melbourne,” he said.
Simon Westaway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC), believes the industry “needs more time” to get back on its feet.
“Tourism is an overwhelmingly small business-driven sector in our country,” he told Travel Weekly.
“It’s also a critical sector – a one million employee sector – and we believe the federal government understands the challenges of our industry, and also the opportunities that are there if we can come out the other side.”
According to a submission to the federal government’s coronavirus inquiry, ATIC said the majority of small- and medium-sized tourism businesses on JobKeeper had been in hibernation until late 2020.
“We see JobKeeper as an important partnership between our industry and the likes of other industries,” Westaway said.
The scheme would continue to be critical at iconic tourism operations around Australia where components, like seasonality, complicate the ability to automatically rebound, Westaway said.
However, adding to stresses for operators are still-standing domestic borders across the nation, which are inhibiting the recovery of interstate tourism – the driver of Australia’s tourism market.
“We’re absolutely kidding ourselves if we think that the industry is going to be at any level of recovery by September. We simply won’t be,” Westaway said.
“We believe it’s absolutely too soon in our industry’s case. It’s not because we’re looking for a handout – the point is we’ve been absolutely cobbled while we have closed borders.
“Our industry is hamstrung until we get people moving again.”
It comes after federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in May that the program could be expanded beyond six months for hard-hit industries, like tourism, following a review in June.
But according to Dennis Bunnik, chief executive of Bunnik Tours and chair of the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO), there is no other option for ensuring the industry’s survival – outside of the opening of international borders.
“Having JobKeeper stop in September is not an option, especially for the tourism industry,” Bunnik told Travel Weekly in May. “It needs to be extended.”