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‘Flawed’ support package fails smaller agents, says AFTA

December 21, 2020 Headline News No Comments

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has pointed out “multiple flaws” in the Federal Government’s historic $128 million support package, which it helped obtain, saying it has not been able to review and comment on the package and implementation approach, despite repeated requests.

This was “creating unnecessary confusion and strain at the end of an already challenging year,” an AFTA statement said.

“The process so far means that the political commitment to supporting travel agents, travel wholesalers and tour operators especially those small businesses at the lower end of the tier is yet to fully translate into tangible practical support. The AFTA Board and team continue to work hand in hand along with other key influencers to ensure Government and Austrade address these issues.”

AFTA Chair, Tom Manwaring

AFTA Chair Tom Manwaring described the Morrison-McCormack Government’s support for travel agents as historic, saying it came “at a critical time for our members, especially given the ongoing delays to the full resumption of international travel and the domestic challenges.”

“The spirit and collaborative support behind this support is both appreciated and very sincerely valued,” Manwaring said.

“However, the design of the program has failed in its noble purpose. Many of these small businesses that desperately need support are in fact not eligible, especially at the lower end. While this support package is intended to work in tandem with other measures to help a bridge back to business on the other side of Covid-19, the reality is that even for those few businesses that actually qualify, the support barely covers two months of costs – and in fact for the lower end businesses, the proposed support equates to just two weeks.

“Travel agents on current budget assumptions have 18 months from 1 January 2021 before they can restore their cashflow.

“Until international travel returns, the reality is that, without ongoing support, these businesses located across regional and rural Australia as well as in our cities and suburbs cannot and will not survive.”

Manwaring pledged that the AFTA board and team would “continue to work with Government at all levels in a constructive and collaborative way to find solutions within the obvious tightening budget constraints. We have already raised the need, given the unique circumstances, for additional measures including tailored JobKeeper beyond March.

“The eligibility criteria, entry threshold tests and grant size of this $128 million tailored program must change, especially at the lower tiers to offer any hope to the 40,000 people relying on the survival of travel agents for employment. The survival of Australia’s 4000 travel agencies, tour operators and wholesalers is also critical to the unpaid work being done to repatriate the outstanding $4 billion of outstanding refunds for Australian consumers from airlines, hotels, and overseas tour companies.”

AFTA has stressed that it remains united in its view that the current approach to securing ongoing Federal Government support for members is the right one.

At its final meeting for 2020, AFTA’s board confirmed chief executive Darren Rudd in his role and reaffirmed the AFTA team’s approach to raising government awareness of the desperate plight of travel agents, travel wholesalers and tour operators and the need for tailored support.

The board has been heavily involved in AFTA’s ongoing engagement with government. Directors have worked alongside Rudd and the AFTA team to educate and engage with members of Parliament from across the political spectrum.

AFTA says it is working closely with Austrade and the Federal Government on refining the implementation details. 

Edited by Peter Needham


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