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Australia’s Travel Sector At “Tipping Point”, Calls For Government Support 

Calls for greater support for the travel sector as some travel agents see revenue plummet by up to 95 percent due to the pandemic.

SYDNEY — Australia’s travel industry is at a tipping point and could see major job losses unless more government support is provided. Covid-19 induced domestic border closures, the suspension of the trans-Tasman travel bubble, and restrictions have led to renewed calls for additional government support for Australia’s travel agents.

About 15,000 travel sector jobs have been lost since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, as some travel agents have seen their revenue plummet by up to 95 percent.

In the past 18 months, travel agents have handed out AU$8 billion ($5.88 billion) in credits and refunds to customers from hotels, airlines, cruise liners, and tour operators, with AU$2 billion ($1.47 billion) still outstanding.

Tom Manwaring, chair of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, said the industry is at a tipping point, and “massive job losses” are looming unless there is more government support.

“Right now, every agent is 18 months into near-zero income, and the lack of cash flow clashes with the ongoing business and payroll costs,” he said.

A closed travel agent is seen in the central business district in Sydney, July 2021. Cash grants will go to small businesses struggling to survive Sydney’s lockdown under a federal government plan devised after NSW had finalised a now shelved $4 billion package to deliver its own version of JobKeeper. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image)

The industry is also joining calls for the reinstatement of JobKeeper. The JobKeeper wage subsidy was a federal payment program that supported eligible businesses and not-for-profits severely impacted by the Covid-19 economic slowdown with AU$1500 ($1104.22) a fortnight from late March to Sept. 2020.

Organizations that continued to suffer from the impact were supported through the extension period of six months until late March in 2021.

Fremantle travel agency Bicton Travel’s managing director Carole Smethurst said she had 29 staff before Covid and is now down to five full-time and three casual workers.

“At least this time last year, we were able to sell domestic travel, but now with the yo-yoing of state border closures, consumers just aren’t confident in booking travel,” she said. We are in a worse state now than we were at this time last year – at least then we were receiving some government assistance.”

“Consumers were happy to shift bookings for 2020 travel forward to 2021, but now they no longer want to do that. They want to cancel because they’re not confident that they will be able to travel. I had 29 staff pre-Covid. I’m now down to five full-time and three casuals, and I will do whatever is necessary to keep my team together. JobKeeper would allow me to breathe.”

Glenn Checkley, managing director, Travelonline, said his weekly turnover has fallen by 80 percent.

His business does not have the same access to financial support since it is located in Brisbane.

“We need JobKeeper and rent support back, even if it requires strict turnover reduction tests to ensure the waste of Jobkeeper 1.0 isn’t repeated,” he said.

“At the moment, businesses like ours are the forgotten businesses.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Covid-19 disaster payments were more flexible than JobKeeper.

“These payments at (AU)$600 ($441.69) and (AU)$375 ($276.05) are at the level JobKeeper was in the December quarter last year,” he said.

“It is available to casuals, and it is money that is going out the door as quickly as 40 minutes.”

Edited by Saptak Datta and Krishna Kakani

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