Travel agents want JobKeeper extended until after international travel has restarted

Travel agents want JobKeeper extended until after Australia's border reopens to international travel. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Travel agents want JobKeeper extended until after Australia's border reopens to international travel. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Travel agents are calling for JobKeeper to be extended until at least four months after international travel has restarted, amid warnings the industry could collapse if the financial lifeline is pulled.

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents has used results of an industry survey to strengthen its case for ongoing support for a sector which has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federation argues that in addition to preventing mass job losses and business closures, the industry must be kept afloat so it can help Australians retrieve billions of dollars in travel credits held by international companies after a year of cancelled holidays and overseas trips.

The sector's push has the backing of at least one Coalition MP, who argues the government has an obligation to support an industry whose plight was caused by its decision to shut Australia's border.

The industry survey found that almost 95 per cent of businesses had suffered a decline in revenue of 90 per cent or more, while 99.9 per cent had experienced a decrease in income of at least 70 per cent.

Close to one in three businesses would shut down if the JobKeeper wage subsidy was not extended beyond its scheduled March 28 end date, according to the survey.

More than half of the 1513 respondents - which included tour operators, travel agents and store managers - were unsure about their business' future.

Women make up about 80 per cent of the workforce in the travel agent industry, meaning the sector's decline or collapse would have a disproportionate impact on female employment, the survey noted.

The federation has called on the Morrison government to immediately announce an extension of JobKeeper for eligible businesses in the travel sector until at least four months after the reopening of international travel.

The peak body's chief executive, Darren Rudd, said it was necessary to extend assistance beyond the resumption of international travel because of the lag time in agents receiving payments after trips were booked.

The survey results were included in a document circulated to Liberal, National and Labor MPs ahead of their respective party room meetings early this week.

The federation argued in the document that targeted support was necessary to prevent the collapse of the travel industry.

Its pitch referenced figures which showed the value of weekly flight sales in January totalled just $148 million, down from $1.3 billion in the same period in 2020.

"The industry expects sales to remain constrained as localised lockdowns continue to occur, travel bubbles are impacted by intermittent closures and advice pointing to a re-opening of widespread travel from 2022 at the earliest," the document stated.

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"Even with current levels of government assistance, travel agents are struggling to maintain liquidity, cover ongoing operating expenses and retain staff to service high cancellation and refund activity."

The federation said when international borders reopened travel agents would play a critical role in ensuring credits could be "utilised conveniently and completely".

If businesses collapsed, credits would either disappear or be hard to retrieve from international operations, the peak body said.

"Ending assistance to this sector before a recovery of the travel environment, and particularly international travel, would have disastrous impacts - forcing a significant proportion of agents out of business and forcing well-trained and experienced travel agent staff into unemployment," the document stated.

The group also called for a second round of the government's dedicated travel agent support package - but with a different method for making grant payments.

Under the $128 million program, payments were based on a businesses turnover.

The federation said the nature of a travel agent-supplier relationship altered how sales were reported for GST purposes, which made for marked differences in the grants paid out to businesses which had similar levels of activity.

Nationals MP Pat Conaghan, who represents the electorate of Cowper on the NSW mid-north coast, said he had met with government ministers to discuss extending support beyond March and a second rollout of the grants program.

"I've been saying this for months - this is not the travel agent's fault," Mr Conaghan said.

"If we take those steps [to close the border] ... then we need to support them. There are 40,000 people in this industry, that's 40,000 families."

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This story Extend JobKeeper until after Australia's border reopens: travel agents first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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