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AFTA: Government pathway welcomed, but more support needed

With at least 15,000 jobs already gone in Australia’s travel sector since the pandemic began, the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has warned that ongoing Government support until international travel normalises is critical.

With at least 15,000 jobs already gone in Australia’s travel sector since the pandemic began, the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has warned that ongoing Government support until international travel normalises is critical.

AFTA is asking the question “What now?” in the wake of the National Cabinet’s 4-stage “return to normal” plan announced on Friday which relies on vaccination thresholds being reached, the specifics of which are yet to be released.

Given the Prime Minister’s statement that “it will be the end of the year before all Australians who want to be vaccinated will be”, it’s suggested that international travel for most Australians is at least 6 months if not a year away.

So what does that mean for travel advisors? AFTA chair Tom Manwaring says that more government assistance and support is going to be needed.

“We welcome the clarity that today’s National Cabinet 4-stage plan provides as to how Australia will re-open and return to normal.”

“But the reality is that we have already lost approximately 15,000 jobs in our sector as a result of the COVID shutdown. These are highly skilled and experienced individuals whom we simply can’t afford to lose and whom consumers are relying heavily on now to help navigate the multiple travel challenges created by COVID.

“What is clear is that “normal” travel for most Australians is still some time off even if there is a significant upturn in vaccination rates. Until that happens, we need ongoing support for Australia’s travel agents and businesses who are performing such important work in supporting customers and whose skill and expertise will be so heavily relied on as Australians start travelling again given the complexities of COVID-travel. This is an important support for the remaining 30,000 jobs and 3,000 travel agencies and businesses.

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“We are very grateful for the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Program, which has seen $258 Million in support for Australian travel and tourism businesses, including travel agents. But we need the support from Rounds 1 and 2 of the grants program to flow more quickly to those eligible agents and, given the ongoing pause in outbound travel, we need this support extended and supplemented urgently.”

Australia’s travel agents have played a critical role in supporting consumers to navigate COVID lockdowns and border shutdowns.

This has included successfully securing $7 Billion worth of credits and refunds on COVID-impacted travel from suppliers (hotels, airlines, tour operators, cruise lines etc.) on behalf of their consumers.

All this despite agents experiencing revenue falls of 90%-plus from the imposition of the international travel ban in March 2020.

JobKeeper’s ending at the end of March 2021, volatile border closures and lockdowns and reduced supplier commissions have also all been contributing factors to the continuation of job and business losses.