Australia’s travel agents will be able to apply for one-off support payments worth between $1,500 and $100,000 as the industry faces continued challenges.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham announced the $128 million scheme on Tuesday, describing travel agents as being in a uniquely difficult position.
“This one-off payment recognises that travel agents are operating in an exceptional set of circumstances where most are having to refund last year's income while continuing to work with no additional income,” Birmingham said.
“Providing further assistance to travel agents in the current environment will help keep them afloat at a time when they are continuing to hold travel credits for consumers who have previously cancelled travel.”
Eligible travel agents with turnovers of between $50,000 and $20 million a year will be able to apply for the scaled payments, which begin at $1,500 for travel agents with $50,000 in turnover and $100,000 for agents with $200 million in turnover.
According to The Australian, the scheme will benefit between 3,000 and 4,000 travel agents.
The sector has received around $700 million in JobKeeper subsidies.
“This package will help to ensure the sector’s sustainability to assist Australian travellers with the new world of COVIDSafe travel,” Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) CEO Darren Rudd said.
The Federation of Travel Agents believes the sector has seen $10 billion spent on holidays that Australians were unable to enjoy since March.
The Government has not yet provided details on how travel agents apply for the scheme.
Travel industry hardest-hit by pandemic
Travel agents have been one of the hardest hit sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the industry calling for $250 million in Government support as many saw revenue topple 100 per cent.
According to the AFTA, the sector contributes $28 billion to the annual economy but 25 per cent of the industry will close without support.
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell said travel agents needed an urgent lifeline on Monday, claiming an ASBFEO survey showed 1,300 agents were “clinging by a thread”.
“We know travel agents are working hard to negotiate refunds from travel companies and airlines for their customers,” Carnell said.
“In fact 56 per cent of these small businesses said they would have already closed down, if not for their commitment to ensure customers were reimbursed for the holidays they could no longer take.
“Travel agents have been faced with enormous challenges to get back the deposits paid to travel providers such as offshore cruise ship or tour companies on behalf of their customers. A number of travel agents have complained about Qantas specifically, in terms of the length of time it is taking to refund customers.”
If struggling travel agents shut up shop completely, customers would likely miss out on refunds, Carnell added.
“That said, travel agents are losing money by keeping their businesses open as they try to do the right thing for their customers,” she continued.
“With international travel restrictions likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, this is an incredibly difficult situation for small businesses in the tourism sector, but travel agents are among the hardest hit and they will need targeted support to continue the important work they are doing.”
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