The details of the government’s JobKeeper 2.0 scheme were announced this week with more relief extended until March 2021, albeit at a lesser rate for businesses and individuals. But was it fair? And will it be enough to sustain the travel industry through the impact of COVID-19? Andy Buerckner shares his initial thoughts.
JobKeeper. To say it’s been a lifeline for the travel industry would be the understatement of the century.
JobKeeper 1.0 and 2.0 has given our business a chance to keep our team together, and it’s undoubtedly holding our economy together (for now anyway).
For both of these things, I am truly grateful.
I’m acutely aware, too, of how privileged we are to receive any government support in Australia at all; when hundreds of countries and colleagues around the world (including our friends over in New Zealand) have been left out in the cold.
But am I the only one in the travel industry calling BS on the celebrations here? I mean, let’s be clear: we weren’t singled out yesterday.
The collective campaigning and efforts of AFTA, ATIC, ATEC, ACCI and other industry personnel to call attention to the specific and overwhelming effects of COVID-19 on the travel industry seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
The staff who can afford to stay on with us past September will receive the same support as businesses whose revenue has recovered substantially – who have any revenue at all.
But as I said on Sky News last week, the vast majority of travel businesses and operators are still in negative revenue.
There’s no runway for earnings with borders closed. We’ve lost 2019 revenue, 2020 revenue and have only blind faith that things will improve in 2021.
Surely a more targeted approach to the severely impacted would have been fairer? And would have been a more effective use of taxpayers’ money? Tiered levels of support based on direct impact to business revenue, maybe, rather than on pre-COVID employee ‘hours’ – many of which may have largely been recovered?
Don’t get me wrong: I loved the initial rapid, blanket approach of JobKeeper’s rollout for the sake of getting it out to the market and supporting businesses and employees in immediate financial (not to mention emotional) distress.
But they’ve had four months now to consider JobKeeper 2.0, and all I can see is the same initiative… with less support for those who need it most?
I used what I thought was a pretty clumsy example of NIKE trying to survive if the government banned feet in another recent article I wrote, but was surprised how much it resonated with people.
So here’s another one: is it right for a local gift store, let’s say in Perth with revenue 31% below their pre-COVID levels to benefit from the same wage subsidy as those industries who are down 90-110% and counting?
How hard would it really be to tier support based on tangible operational impact? Given we have to provide the data to qualify anyway?
For the record, we’re not asking for special treatment here as travel agents. We want to be lumped in with our friends in other heavily affected industries like entertainment, hospitality, and the arts.
I’ve had countless conversations with friends and family in the theatre and restaurant businesses in the past few weeks, and believe me, their concerns and frustrations mirror our own. They’re calling for the same revenue-tested tiered approach as we are.
There’s a fine line between gratitude and relief for yesterday’s announcement; and criticism of its details.
It could have been a disastrous day. But here’s the thing: I might be a travel business owner, but I’m also a taxpayer. And, like you, I want every dollar funding this scheme to be activated in pursuit of real recovery: in pursuit of the stand-alone, competitive businesses the travel industry has been home to in the past.
But we can do neither of those things if we have no products to sell.
Recent reports show a current monthly JobKeeper burn of approximately $11 billion. After September, this number is expected to fall to $2.8 billion.
Surely this is a sign that fewer businesses will be in need of support come September?
So why are we reducing it for those who need it now more than ever?
You tell me. (Actually. I’d bloody love to hear from you).
Email Andy Buerckner: [email protected]
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