Thursday, 3 December 2020
COVID-19: Travel Agents
COVID-19 has hit every industry in Australia hard, but some have suffered more than others and some have had more help than others. One of the first things to happen when the virus appeared was the closure of our international borders, for good reasons of course. This had a profound impact on our local travel agents. Not only did they lose all their incoming business, but they also lost the business they had already secured.
Travel agents don't get paid until their client actually travels. When COVID-19 happened, travel agents weren't out of work. They had more work ahead of them than they had ever before. They just weren't going to be paid for it. They had to refund hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of their customers' travel—hours and hours of work that is still going on, but no income. It didn't take long before I started to be inundated with emails and calls from desperate travel agents asking for help.
Back in June I visited Bronwyn and her team in Batemans Bay. Bronwyn had managed to keep her workers on with JobKeeper, but they were still struggling. They had all worked tirelessly to try to get their clients who were stuck overseas home. It was difficult and distressing work. And now their sole focus was on refunds.
The story was the same everywhere I went. Jo from Ulladulla told me about the agonising undoing of cruise ship and tour bookings. Jo had done so well with her business and seen tremendous growth, but she said that now it would be easier if it wasn't so successful at all. Shane from Berry was working two other jobs while refunding customers and doing her utmost to keep her travel business open and support her community.
A few weeks ago I met with three of Nowra's longest-running travel agents, Emma, Lindy and Jennie. Between them they have almost 100 years of experience in the travel industry, but they were struggling. They had processed more than $2 million in refunds. Bob from Gerringong has been a travel agent working in the travel industry for over 40 years. Bob told me he's never seen things this bad. I chatted with Suzanne from Kiama only this weekend. She wanted to know when help is coming. Leonie and Julie from Nowra were also asking this question: where is the targeted assistance?
Things won't get better for agents until borders are opened, but, with JobKeeper being wound back, every one of these agents was questioning how they would survive. Sadly, many local travel agents have already gone out of business and workers have lost their jobs because help was nowhere to be seen until this week, until December. While I welcome the news that the government has finally started listening to the struggling travel agents, with one-off grants, why has it taken this long? Agents have had to beg to get any help at all. Thankyou to all the travel agents who shared their stories with me. You are all the reason we managed to finally secure this commitment from the government.