MIXED BAG: Agents Respond To $128m Government Support Package

Yesterday's eagerly awaited $128m government support package announcement for agents was generally met with relief and gratitude that the industry had finally been acknowledged for the ongoing hardship it has faced since the pandemic first began. However, for some, the scheme is 'too little, too late'.

Yesterday’s eagerly awaited $128m government support package announcement for agents was generally met with relief and gratitude that the industry had finally been acknowledged for the ongoing hardship it has faced since the pandemic first began. However, for some, the scheme is ‘too little, too late’.

In case you missed it, the federal government finally confirmed yesterday that it would support the industry with a $128m support package that will allow eligible travel agents and agencies to apply for up to $100k in one-off grants.

Trade, Tourism and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham unveiled the $128m scheme with the objective of helping 3000 to 4000 travel agents with annual turnovers/sales of between $50,000 and $20 million.

In terms of how it works, all we know so far is that eligible agencies at the lower end of the scale will receive minimum one-off payments of $1500, while larger travel agencies will be able to claim a maximum payment of up to $100,000.

As to when applications will open, all we know according to the official Aus Trade website is that “More information on how to apply will be available soon.”

While the announced $128m package is half of the $250m AFTA was initially pushing for, the resulting green light is a glowing testament to the commitment of AFTA CEO Darren Rudd and the team as well as agents all over Australia who for months have diligently lobbied their local MPs and basically anyone else who would listen to highlight the desperate plight agents face.

From Bill Shorten’s famously rousing parliament speech to the ABC’s recent coverage of agent woes, the public media focus leading up to yesterday’s announcement has for once been positive, widespread and impactful.

A huge well done and thank you should also go out to Jo-Anne Deveson Francis who started the Australian Travel Industry Lobby Group Facebook page which now has 2,000 members and has provided a key platform for agents to share and create their own local lobbying activity.

They say “It takes a village to raise a child”, and in this instance, it’s been a shining case of the community, Together In Travel making it happen for agents all over Australia.

So what are agents saying?

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The feedback, certainly on our social media channels has been mixed with many agents grateful to receive anything at all on top of JobKeeper payments that will continue (albeit declining) until the end of March 2021.

One agent in Western Australia wrote: “On top of quarterly BAS cash boosts, JobKeeper, and a recent 10k from State Government, this owner is very happy.”

Another agent said “It’s a great step forward!” with many others echoing the positive sentiments of one agent who said: “We are the only industry that just can’t go and get another job as we are still working on files paying back money and committed for years with no income once JobKeeper ends.”

However, the announcement was also met with sadness and bitterness from many who felt that the support package had come too late for many agents who have already lost their jobs.

“This is good news and I’m grateful our industry has finally been acknowledged and I’m sure every little bit helps, but gosh the lengths the industry had to fight for so long. I’m not sure this is even going to save some.” Said one agent.

Another said: “Too late, too little. No more BAS cash boosts and no extension of JobKeeper. This means no more employees anywhere in travel and owners drowning in debt.”

While this agent wrote: “Thousands of jobs redundant already, this is way too late, and $100k to some companies won’t even cover one site/shop’s expenses for one month.”

Some were more circumspect, with one agent saying: “This was my fear. This may be a little taboo to say but if agents or agencies think that the government was going to produce a support package that made us whole I feel we would be kidding ourselves as it’s just not possible. I am a travel agent working full time from home and my main training business was cut to zero because of COVID and may not return until at least 2022. But if we had an expectation that $10,000 or $200,000 was going to fix how much we lost as an industry we are way off the mark. I feel it’s great that jobKeeper is in play and to maybe get some more assistance is amazing. In a tough time when we finally get offered assistance maybe a thank you rather than condemnation could be in order.”

While another summed up the mood of many, saying: “Some people don’t seem happy with this. Just remember that it is $125m more than it could have been!”

Clearly, this is still a crisis situation that continues to polarise, depending on individual situations and financial contingency plans around navigating the uncertainty of international travel resuming in 2021.

So the ‘When’ from the government now for the support package and the finer details and timings are the critical pieces here.

All we know is that the official word from the Government is that they are working at “record speed to get the program operational this month.”

Take from that what you will.

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In the meantime, the positives to hold onto are that for starters, all of our domestic borders here in Australia are likely to be open within the next couple of weeks, meaning country-wide connectivity once more and an increased desire for travel.

PLUS! We have the likely prospect of a vaccine becoming available in the first quarter of 2021, potential travel bubble’s starting with New Zealand, Singapore and the South Pacific along a similar timeframe and best of all, the near elimination of the pandemic in Australia.

It’s crucial to remember right now that compared to where we were just a couple of months ago, we’ve come a long way in a very short space of time.

Along with our cousins over in New Zealand, we’re the envy of the world right now.

Reasons to be cheerful? Hang in there everyone.

What do you think? Email us at [email protected] and share your thoughts.