The ABC hasn’t always been a travel agent’s friend (think back to the Flight Centre exposé in 2018 or the infamous Checkout show from 2017) but the national broadcaster shot to ‘agent bestie’ status yesterday thanks to airing a much-needed segment that revealed the current and desperate predicament of the industry.
The ABC featured a four-minute segment on its ‘The Business’ show hosted by presenter Elysse Morgan that highlighted the current and dark forward outlook for travel agents thanks to international borders remaining closed, and still without any kind of plan to work towards from the government.
With an accompanying online story that ran with the heartbreaking headline: “Hundreds of travel agents close down amid coronavirus pandemic, others barely survive.”, the message was clear to anyone who still hasn’t got it yet.
“HELP AND UNDERSTANDING IS URGENTLY NEEDED.“
It is, obviously, no secret to all of us still breathing in the industry that Travel agents are one of the worst-hit sectors in the COVID crisis.
Travel agents are desperately hanging on for the green light and confirmed timings and detail on the proposed $250 million Federal Government support package that has been canvassed so passionately and diligently by AFTA and agents all over Australia with their local MP’s.
So after all of the Current Affair refund nonsense and various other mainstream media kicking the boot in, it was comforting to finally hear the truthful situation being recognised and told in such a clear yet detailed manner to the general public.
In what was a breath of rarefied air, the hard facts were laid bare for all to see…
In a recent Australian Small Business survey of hundreds of agents, 98 per cent say they have seen their revenue plunge by more than 75 per cent since COVID restrictions were introduced in March.
“More than half have told us their revenue has plummeted by over 100 per cent, meaning they have been paying more out in refunds, including previously made revenue than they are selling in new business.”
Kate Carnell, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman
Flight Centre Travel Group CEO Skroo Turner said that the group has now lost 66% of their staff since the pandemic began and closed more than 500 stores in Australia.
“We started pre-COVID with about 21,000 people (employees internationally). And we’re down to 6,500-7,000 at the moment.”
Skroo Turner, Flight Centre Travel Group
Mobile Travel agent Linda Forster who runs her business, TravLin Travel from home on the Mornington Peninsula calmly shared her story, saying her business was thriving before the pandemic but has now put her business into hibernation while she searches for a second gig.
Speaking about the fate of many of her travel agent peers, Ms Forster said: “They’ve already left — people who have been in the industry since school — they’ve been in the industry 10, 20 30, even 40 years,”
Like most agents, Ms Forster has been living off JobKeeper but wants the Government to extend it — and go back to its full original rate of $1500 fortnightly.
“We’ve never asked the Government for help but now we really need the help now.”
Linda Forster, TravLin Travel
Spencer Travel founder Penny Spencer also shared her story, telling the ABC how she’s had to close two shopfronts and saying that “pretty much overnight our business stopped.”
“We had nothing to sell. We’re like a supermarket with nothing on the shelves. It’s been a really, really tough time.”
Penny Spencer, Spencer Travel
Make no mistake. This is a crisis of our generation and we’re all sick of waiting for help and we’re sick of talking about it.
As the broad industry sentiment goes: “we don’t want handouts – we just want to be able to get on with our jobs, businesses and our livelihoods.”
The problem is of course, that all of our hands remain tied while the borders stay closed, locally and internationally.
The glimmers of light to stay focussed on come from the fact that post-pandemic, travel agents WILL be needed as dependable experts in helping travellers navigate a whole new world.
Skroo Turner said that while the situation was currently dire, those that do make it out the other side will be needed more than ever.
“As things come back whether it’s business travel or leisure travel most customers are going to want the certainty that they get good advice and the way they travel is safe, so the role of the travel agent will be even more important.” He said.
Ms Spencer echoed Skroo’s thoughts, saying the industry is going to look very different post-pandemic.
“We’re going to have to be like lawyers and doctors,” Ms Spencer said.
“We are going to have to know what is required when someone travels to Italy, and then goes to Germany — do they need a COVID test to get into Germany? What borders are going to be open to what countries? So there’s going to be a lot of extra work that we have to do.”
Penny Spencer, Spencer Travel
I’d also say that I have personally had numerous conversations recently with agents who are seeing a lot of domestic business as well as forward bookings coming through for international travel for 2022 and 2023.
“Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Stay in touch with your clients and offer them unique ideas for domestic travel as well as highlight the scarcity of booking overseas product for 2022/23.”
In a time when a positive outlook is needed to get us through the adversity, the ABC’s video segment and the story goes a long way to publicly helping the cause, while hopefully changing people’s perceptions of travel agents in the process.
Bravo to everyone involved in making it happen.
Read the full ABC story here.
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