Support comes at last for our travel agents

Anthony Miles and Elisse Pope from Mid Coast Travel and Cruise
Anthony Miles and Elisse Pope from Mid Coast Travel and Cruise

Local travel agents have welcomed today's announcement of a one-off Federal Government payment to them through the toughest times the industry has ever faced.

Under the $128 million scheme, eligible travel agents with a turnover of between $50,000 and $20 million a year will be able to apply for the one-off payment.

Payments will be scaled, with a minimum payment of $1,500 for a business with a turnover of $50,000 up to a maximum payment of $100,000 for a business with a turnover of $20 million.

Co-owner of Macksville-based Mid Coast Travel and Cruise Anthony Miles said he was "happy for anything".

He and business partner Elisse Pope have lost up to 99 per cent of their earnings since January when the threat of COVID first spooked the public away from overseas holidays.

"We were the first industry impacted and we'll be the last to recover," he said.

"But Elisse and I made the decision early on that we wouldn't close our doors - we knew we needed to stay open to give our customers the reassurance that we'd never desert them.

If we shut our doors we couldn't show our faces at the pub.

And he said their customers have rewarded them with compassion and loyalty.

But keeping the doors open has been emotionally taxing too.

No support package can dull the frustration the pair felt being unable to help locals travel over closed borders to see dying loved ones.

"You could see the devastation on people's faces," Anthony said.

Lynn Baker, Lauris White and Jen Phillips

Lynn Baker, Lauris White and Jen Phillips

Both Elisse and Anthony, and Lauris White from HelloWorld Nambucca, are still "digesting" what today's announcement means for their respective businesses.

But all three were appreciative of local member Pat Conaghan's advocacy on this issue.

"Pat has been unbelievable," Anthony said.

"He was the first to get up on the floor and fight for us. And there are over 30,000 views of his speech to Parliament on the issue."

Anthony with Sue Gorman from Kempsey Travel and Cruise, Deputy PM Michael McCormack, Kempsey Mayor Liz Campbell and Cowper MP Pat Conaghan

Anthony with Sue Gorman from Kempsey Travel and Cruise, Deputy PM Michael McCormack, Kempsey Mayor Liz Campbell and Cowper MP Pat Conaghan

Anthony said he was given the opportunity to meet with Mr Conaghan and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack last week at South West Rocks to talk about the support package.

"It was really nice to know they'd heard us, and were taking this seriously" he said.

Mr Conaghan said the travel industry is important to his electorate which is why he met with local travel agents and pushed hard for the Federal Nationals to call for an industry-specific support package since September.

"Travel agents in my region and indeed right across Australia have been some of the hardest hit businesses due to COVID-19," he said.

"We worked extremely hard to help secure this assistance package."

Local travel agents: (from left) Glenda Halliwell of Travel Centre Coffs Harbour, Lauris White of Helloworld Travel Nambucca, Kerry Moss of Quadrant Australia, James Cracknell of Windsong Travel Bellingen and Sawtell, Greta Lindsay of Helloworld Travel Coffs Harbour and Ian Carswell of Travel Associates Coffs Harbour.

Local travel agents: (from left) Glenda Halliwell of Travel Centre Coffs Harbour, Lauris White of Helloworld Travel Nambucca, Kerry Moss of Quadrant Australia, James Cracknell of Windsong Travel Bellingen and Sawtell, Greta Lindsay of Helloworld Travel Coffs Harbour and Ian Carswell of Travel Associates Coffs Harbour.

Australian Federation of Travel Agents Chief Executive Officer Darren Rudd also welcomed the assistance package.

"We are delighted that the Government has acknowledged the unique and challenging circumstances that travel agents have been confronted with," Mr Rudd said.

But it's no silver bullet

Elisse said she's thankful for the cash payment which will be coming just in time for Christmas, but she's also taking today's announcement with a grain of salt.

"It's a welcome boost, but for many people in our industry it's coming far too late," she said.

"This support package has been talked about for six months. Other industries received help months ago.

We were lucky that we had the support of our community, but so many didn't and have had to close while waiting for help.

And Anthony said the payment doesn't alleviate the anxiety around the looming JobKeeper cut-off date early next year.

"Come March there's no JobKeeper, and there'll be up to 40,000 travel agents out of the job. Everything will shift to online bookings, but all online booking websites are run by overseas companies," he said.

"I think all our governments - state and federal - have done a great job during this pandemic. But there's still so much uncertainty around other countries. There are so many moving factors, we just don't know when the end date is."

He said there were "lots of tears, laughter, and coins put in swear jars" when agents from up and down our coast met recently to share their experiences.

But Anthony said the travel industry is nothing if not resilient. And he and Elisse intend to keep their business afloat as long as they can.

"We said we'd never shut. We'll use our savings and do extra work outside of here to keep the doors open," he said.

"We don't want to throw away a business that is still necessary, particular in an ageing society.

"We want to remind our community that we're still here for them."

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