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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Local travel agents fighting to stay afloat

After intensive lobbying from travel agents across the country, the Federal Government last week announced $128 million in cash grants for Australia’s 4,000 travel agents, tour operators and wholesalers and the 40,000 people they employ.

Jamison Travel director Michelle Everson said the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) and “basically every travel agency in Canberra” lobbied local and federal MPs to secure additional support.

Hit incredibly hard by the COVID recession, Mrs Everson said her business went from looking at a good year to operating at a loss.

“We’re not down 30% or down 50%, we’re down 130%,” she said.

“Because not only are we not able to sell travel this year, all the travel that we sold last year for this year, we’ve had to refund.

“So all the money we’ve earned from last year we’ve had to refund, and a lot of people aren’t getting it.

“It took a lot to get that through to the government – ‘Are you prepared to give back your wages that you earned last year, for the work you did last year?’.

“Because that’s what pretty much we’ve been expected to do.”

Mrs Everson said JobKeeper was a huge help and she was certain travel agencies would fold without it.

Looking to the future, she said the travel industry was lobbying to make sure JobKeeper or some form of industry specific wage subsidy continued beyond 31 March 2021.

She said she was “very, very grateful” for the $128 million worth of one-off payments announced by the Morrison Government on 1 December, however, it wouldn’t be enough long-term.

Payments will be scaled, with a minimum payment of $1500 for a business with a turnover of $50,000 up to a maximum payment of $100,000 for a business with a turnover of $20 million.

“It’s not enough to sustain a business, it’s enough to offset some of the costs of running a business,” Mrs Everson said.

“So, I think you’re going to see a lot of people leave the market, which is very sad.”

With international travel off the table, Mrs Everson said a lot of Canberrans were planning a big motorhome holiday, or to explore part of the country they’d never seen before.

Many travellers were heading further afield to Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

“It’s a beautiful blessing, people are appreciating what they’ve got. And the right to travel,” she said.

But there was only so much travel and accommodation Jamison Travel could sell.

“I had a lady in before who wants to go to the Kimberley. Most of the tours to the Kimberley are already booked out for next year.”

“It’s always popular, but guess what? People who would normally put off that trip are doing it.”

And when it came to international destinations, she said her team was receiving enquiries, however, they were cautious about lock in plans.

“The thing for us is we’re very mindful that we don’t want to push something too much.”

“Because there’s no guarantee that it will happen.

“We can’t really even risk with internal travel in some cases, you know, there’s talk of WA shutting the border, or not opening the border, because of one COVID case in Sydney.”

For some of Mrs Everson’s customers, the fear of international travel will be a long-term barrier.

“There’s a lot of people who feel frightened and I understand that – they say ‘I’ll never go on a cruise again’.”

“But then I’ll walk across the road and run into five of my clients who are like, ‘Can we go anywhere? Where can we go?’.”

Despite the uncertainty Mrs Everson said her industry was trying to stay positive.

“We’re really hoping for the success of the vaccine.”

“I’ve got my legs crossed, my fingers – everything crossed!”

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