Small businesses in the Australian travel industry are staging a ‘day of action’ across the country today, including coordinated demonstrations outside of local electorate offices across the states and territories.
Business owners and staff are also planning on visiting the offices of state tourism ministers, and even those of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Tourism Minister Dan Tehan and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Belle Goldie, owner of itravel, a travel agency in Penrith, Western Sydney, is one of the main organisers of the movement.
Those in the travel industry are demanding that some of the travel restrictions — on both domestic and international travel — be removed, she tells SmartCompany.
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Bans on local cruising should also be removed, she adds, noting that cruises have restarted in other parts of the world with no safety concerns.
The group is also calling for financial support “until Australians can freely travel again”, something Goldie doesn’t anticipate happening until at least mid-2022.
“We’ve taken one for Team Australia,” Goldie says, estimating the industry has collectively lost about 95% of revenues over the past two years.
“We are the forgotten industry,” she adds.
“The government seems to think we’re in a recovery phase … we’re very much still in a survival phase.”
Ongoing challenges for travel businesses
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFRA) has been calling for support for the sector for some time, proposing a $150 million ‘Travel Sector Skills Retention and Impaired Recovery Package’ that would focus on supporting businesses and retaining talent.
The number of people working in the travel industry has dropped by about 30% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry body estimates.
Goldie says that’s through businesses closing and people leaving the industry for more stable work at this time. She herself had to let all of her staff members go, leaving her to manage her 1200 clients alone.
Those people may not be travelling now, but with $8 billion in travel credits banked in Australia, she’s expecting an influx. It’s just hard to say when.
Pre-COVID, about 70% of Australians used travel agencies to plan their trips. Once travel restrictions ease, that’s expected to increase, as travellers navigate complex border rules.
That makes it all the more important to keep people working in the sector, Goldie explains, especially at this point in the pandemic.
“If we lose that, we lose the skills and the expertise that we’ve built up over the last two years in the current restrictive travel industry,” she says.
A crucial part of the economy
While Goldie’s business is an agency, she and the business owners demonstrating with her represent all corners of the travel sector.
Many are tour operators in what would usually be holiday hotspots; they’re coach companies and the chauffeurs who pick weary travellers up from the airports.
“We are a crucial part of the entire ecosystem and economy,” Goldie says.
“We keep it all glued together.”
Itravel is a family legacy business, and Goldie says that’s true for many of her small business counterparts taking part in the day of action. These are entrepreneurs who care deeply about their businesses and their industry, and they’re not going to go down without a fight.
Goldie even sold her car to help keep her business afloat, she says.
“I could have walked away from this two years ago, but this is something I’ve done for most of my life,” she says.
“For half of my life I’ve lived in this world and I wouldn’t be anywhere else, particularly because of the industry — the people in it are extraordinary.”