AFTA seeks $150m retention and recovery package

“Without a healthy outbound market, it’s bloody impossible to have a healthy inbound market." Dean Long

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has sought a $150 million lifeline from the Morrison Government to assist with repairing an industry left shattered by the COVID pandemic.

AFTA has proposed a Travel Sector Skills Retention and Impaired Recovery Package, which takes into account $60 million of unallocated funds under the Consumer Travel COVID-19 Support Grant.

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The proposal comes in response to the Australian Aviation Industry this week being handed more than $109 million in fresh support from the Federal Government. That’s on top of $5.3 billion in assistance already supplied.

“This announcement without the extension of support to outbound tourism raises concerns considering our sectors face the same challenges and our success is intrinsically linked,” AFTA said.

“This announcement without the extension of support to outbound tourism raises concerns considering our sectors face the same challenges and our success is intrinsically linked,” AFTA said.

“Over 70% of all international travel out of Australia is still booked through a travel agent or business, as Australians recognise the value of expertise when considering the complexities and challenges of international travel.

“The COVID-19 Pandemic has only exacerbated the reliance on travel professionals, as consumer uncertainty increasingly becomes a barrier to recovery for our sector and aviation alike. As fundamentally, the recovery of inbound travel will be impaired so long as Australia’s outbound travel remains depleted, as the economics for a vibrant inbound market rely on Australians filling the planes and cruises heading out of Australia,” AFTA argued.

AFTA said the government’s “inconsistent allocation of funds” to different sectors of the Australian travel market “risks undermining the much-appreciated intention to support Australian businesses and jobs”.

Dean Long, CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents argued that a healthy aviation sector is reliant on a healthy travel sector.

“Travel Agents and businesses drive the majority of outbound travel from Australia. Even before COVID, 70% of international travel booked by Australians was through a travel agent and this is already on the rise albeit with 53% of current bookings using existing credits. There’s still no clear roadmap for cruise re-opening, international and domestic air is and will be significantly constrained for some time and 53% of bookings are using existing credits which require additional support from agents for little revenue. This will not normalise before mid 2022,” Long said.

“Consumers and Corporate Australia need us now more than ever. They need us to secure the remaining $2 billion in credits and refunds for COVID-impacted travel. They need us to navigate the multiple and increasing challenges of travel during these times and that’s only going to increase as international travel returns.”

Dean Long, CEO, Australian Federation of Travel Agents

“Prior to COVID, 70% of all international travel Australians booked through us and, as other markets show and as we already know, this proportion will definitely increase.”

Long continued: “Without a healthy outbound market, it’s bloody impossible to have a healthy inbound market.

“It’s great to allocate funds to getting more tourists back to Australia and to keeping airlines flying which is where the bulk of Government support has gone but without a vibrant outbound market with Australians filling those planes and cruise ships heading back out of Australia, the economics simply aren’t there.”

Foreign airlines continued to return to Sydney International Airport in December 2021.

“Government has already acknowledged Travel’s unique position as a sector with the Support Grant but these next two quarters will be the toughest yet and we will only start seeing revenue benefit from international travel from mid-2022. We urgently need Government support to rebuild our skills and workforce because we don’t have the income and won’t have for any time soon. A third of our sector is gone because of the Federal Government’s ban on international travel – that’s 15,000 skilled travel professionals.”

“The 30,000 Australians who continue to work in Australia’s travel sector and the 3,000 agencies and businesses who employ them urgently need ongoing Government help so we can keep providing the expert support travellers need as tourism gets back on track and recovers.

Long said the travel agent community had already secured $8 billion in refunds and credits for COVID impacted travel from airlines, cruise lines, tour operators and hotels on behalf of Australian consumers. However a further $2 billion remains outstanding, with additional flow on from more recent travel frustrations.

Lead image: A still busy Flight Centre Sydney International Airport store after 8pm.

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