Small travel agencies that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic will be eligible for one-off cash payments from the federal government in recognition of the “exceptional set of circumstances” facing their businesses.
The government revealed details of the support payments on Tuesday as part of a $128 million support program.
Travel agents with annual turnover of between $50,000 and $20 million will be eligible for the payments, which will be scaled depending on the size of the business.
Businesses that were turning over $50,000 will receive the minimum level of payment of $1,500, while businesses with turnover of $20 million will be eligible for the maximum payment of $100,000.
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Details are not yet available for how businesses can access the payments, with a spokesperson for Austrade telling SmartCompany the arrangements are still being finalised.
This information will be published on this page on the Austrade website when it becomes available.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the payments have been designed to support travel agents “operating in an exceptional set of circumstances where most are having to refund last year’s income while continuing to work with no additional income”.
“Providing further assistance to travel agents in the current environment will help keep them afloat at a time when they are continuing to hold travel credits for consumers who have previously cancelled travel,” he said in a statement.
The additional cash support for travel agents follows the release of survey findings by small business ombudsman Kate Carnell that detailed the financial strain on small businesses in the travel sector.
Carnell’s office surveyed close to 1,300 agents and found more than half had seen revenue at their business drop by more than 100%.
In November, Carnell backed calls from the Australian Federation of Travel Agents for a government support package to support the industry’s 4,000 travel agents and the 40,000 Australians they employ.
“It’s clear these small businesses are in a world of pain and a support package should be announced as a matter of urgency,” Carnell said.
Meanwhile, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said last week consumer complaints about travel increased dramatically this year.
Between January and October this year, the ACCC received 24,210 consumer complaints related to travel, which represented an increase of 497% compared to the same time period the year before. During this time, the ACCC “engaged” with 113 businesses, 50 of which were travel businesses, about issues or conduct of concern.
The ACCC also established a COVID-19 taskforce in March, which primarily focused on businesses in the travel industry.
While the ACCC worked with large companies including Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad in relation to their cancellation policies, commissioner Sarah Court said the ACCC also did “a lot of other work behind the scenes with dozens of travel businesses to get refunds and other remedies for customers”.
“The ACCC is very conscious of the fact that many businesses have struggled to process cancellations and respond to consumer queries as they have reduced staff capacity and are struggling to stay afloat. We have taken these issues into account in our engagement,” she said in a statement.
SmartCompany contacted Minister Birmingham for more information about how businesses can access the payments, but was directed to Austrade.
This article was updated at 8.20am on Thursday, December 3, 2020.