The small and medium-size businesses that make up much of the travel agency sector are undoubtedly among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Having recently met with multiple local travel agents in Maribyrnong, I raised their plight on the floor of Parliament.
Before the pandemic struck, the travel industry was responsible for the employment of 40,000 Australians, with 30,000 of these being women. The sector helps Australians travel for commerce, culture, leisure, family, friends and fun, with 12 years of consecutive growth seen in the industry. They contribute to the fabric of each community. They sponsor the local clubs and the local high street traders. They are an important part of our landscape.
Since the closure of our international borders, travel agents have had virtually no income without government support. In the travel agency sector, payroll is down, hours are down, unemployment is up, international sales are dead, job ads in the industry are almost non-existent and the mortgages of people who work in the travel agency industry still have to be paid. On top of this, the rent which travel agents have to pay for offices or franchises still must be paid.
Local travel agents have expressed to me the need for a sector specific package for the industry. Their peak body AFTA, who I also met with, have asked for funding in the form of grants —a 12-month bridge back to business of $250 million plus concessional loans.
The Government’s own budget projections suggest international borders may not re-open until the last quarter of 2021. There is no guarantee this will happen and travel agencies will likely have few customers and an extended period limited access to income. The problem has been exacerbated by the Morrison Government’s cuts to the JobKeeper. Without specific industry support, many of our local small and medium-size travel agencies will struggle to remain afloat.
You can find my full speech on this issue to the House of Representatives here: