Travel Agents

“We are just surviving”: ABC highlights the plight of travel agents

The ABC has thrown its support behind travel agents, airing a segment that highlights the current and future struggles of the industry.

In a four-minute segment on The Business, reporter Nessim Khadem begins by exemplifying the crucial role travel agents have played since the beginning of the pandemic in getting Aussies home.

Traveller Miriam Henry told viewers about how she began to feel sick while overseas and may not have made it home to get the medical attention she needed if it wasn’t for her travel agent.

Henry said she contracted COVID-19 in Surry, England and worried that she could have died if she didn’t return to Australia when she did.

Her agent, Linda Forster, who famously made this heart-wrenching video outlining the effects of the pandemic on travel agents, told The Business she has had to put her business in hibernation while she looks for another job.

In the video she made, Forster highlights the number of agents that have had to close their business.

“They’ve already left – people who have been in the industry since school – they’ve been in the industry 10, 20, 30, even 40 years,” she said.

“They’ve been in a position where they’ve had to leave broken and it’s heartbreaking.”

Khadem also spoke with key industry figures Penny Spencer of Spencer Travel and Graham “Skroo” Turner of Flight Centre Travel Group.

“Pretty much overnight our business stopped,” Spencer told The Business.

“We had nothing to sell. We’re like a supermarket with nothing on the shelves. It’s been a really, really tough time.”

She said the looks at her business’ cash flow every day to find out what she can and can’t pay and admits that thanks to the leniency of the banks and JobKeeper, “we are just surviving”.

“It [JobKeeper] has been a lifesaver for everybody, especially in the travel industry,” she said.

“We need to look at what the travel industry can have after March because there is no way we will be able to put people onto full salaries after March.

“The borders will be shut to international travel and the majority of our business is international travel.”

Meanwhile, Turner outlined just how many staff Flight Centre has lost since the global pandemic.

“We started pre-COVID with about 21,000 people [employees internationally]. And we’re down to 6,500 [to] 7,000 at the moment,” he told The Business.

“We’ve kept our best locations and frontline people so that we can cope with a fair bit of businesspeople coming back.”

Turner said he thinks we will see international travel returning in the next six months, but estimates that Flight Centre won’t hit pre-COVID earning levels until 2025.

“The industry is going to change – it’s inevitable,” Turner said.

“But as things come back, whether it’s business travel or leisure travel, most customers are going to want the certainty that they get good advice and the way they travel is safe, so the role of the travel agent will be even more important.”

You can read The Business’ full report below:


Featured image source: YouTube/ABC News

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