Tuesday, 20 October 2020
I rise today to speak on behalf of travel agents across Australia and particularly in my community in Dunkley—small and family businesses who have been absolutely decimated by the impact of the global pandemic and the necessary closure of borders, and decimated not just for this year but, it looks like, for a significant time into the future. I want to thank Linda Forster particularly, a local travel agent who came to my small-businesses Zoom forum with the shadow minister for small business. She raised travel agents in that forum and has provided me with a significant amount of background information. Because of her work, I held a Zoom forum last week with the shadow minister for tourism and local travel agents, to really understand and talk about not just what they're going through but what they need from the federal government for support.
Prior to COVID-19, travel agencies were thriving businesses, with year-on-year growth of 7.2 per cent over the last five years. Because of what's happened this year, 40,000 travel agents have been impacted, $6 billion has had to be, rightly, refunded to travellers, and $4 billion in refunds are still to go out. What's not widely understood is that that includes commissions that travel agents got six months ago, 12 months ago or 18 months ago and have already spent. Now they have to pay them back. Travel agents book about 70 per cent of consumers' international travel, and the majority of their revenues have fallen in excess of 90 per cent. Seventy-one per cent of travel agents are women, who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. And 61 per cent of small businesses with no employees and sole traders are travel agents.
The travel agents that participated in my forum gave me invaluable insight into what they're going through. Chantal's been working in this industry for nearly 21 years. She has a mortgage, she has children's school fees which are on hold, she's trying to pay her bills and keep a positive outlook, she's searching for other jobs on Seek, and she is struggling to get employed. As she said, she works two jobs in travel, they've both been severely affected, and she really wants some assistance for her dying industry. Angela has a three-year lease for a shopfront of about $150,000 a year. How is she going to keep paying that? Natalie and her boss have had to take on other work. Hans raised commissions having to be paid back. As Trish said, 'No-one's holiday will be anything like as good as one booked through your travel agent.' Travel agents were missed entirely in the budget. The budget measures do not help travel agents. They need specific, tailored assistance. As Linda says, 'A campaign to encourage Australians, when they do travel domestically—and, in the future, overseas—to book with travel agents, not with websites where the money goes offshore.'