Small businesses in Australia’s travel industry are holding a ‘day of action’ across the country today, including coordinated protests outside local election offices in states and territories.
Business owners and staff also plan to visit the offices of state tourism ministers, and even those of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Tourism Minister Dan Tehan and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Belle Goldie, owner of itravel, a travel agency in Penrith, Sydney’s west, is one of the main organizers of the movement.
Travel industry players are demanding that some of the travel restrictions – both on domestic and international travel – be removed, she says SmartCompany.
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Local cruise bans should also be lifted, she adds, noting that cruises have restarted in other parts of the world without any safety concerns.
The group is also asking for financial support “until Australians can travel freely again”, which Goldie does not expect until at least mid-2022.
“We took one for Team Australia,” says Goldie, estimating the industry has collectively lost around 95% of its revenue 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 still in a survival phase.”
Ongoing challenges for travel companies
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFRA) has been calling for support for the industry for some time, proposing a $150 million “Travel Industry Skills Retention and Impaired Recovery Package” that would focus on supporting businesses and talent retention.
The number of people working in the travel industry has dropped by around 30% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry body estimates.
Goldie says that’s thanks to businesses closing and people leaving the industry for more stable work right now. She herself had to lay off all her employees, leaving her to manage her 1,200 clients on her own.
These people may not be traveling now, but with $8 billion in travel credits taken in Australia, she expects an influx. It’s just hard to say when.
Before COVID, around 70% of Australians used travel agencies to plan their trips. Once travel restrictions ease, this is expected to increase, as travelers navigate complex border rules.
That makes it all the more important to keep people working in the sector, Goldie says, especially at this stage of the pandemic.
“If we lose that, we lose the skills and expertise that we have accumulated over the past two years in the currently restrictive travel industry,” she says.
A crucial part of the economy
Although Goldie’s business is an agency, she and the business owners who demonstrate with her represent all corners of the travel industry.
Many are tour operators in what would typically be vacation hotspots; it is the coach companies and drivers who collect tired travelers from airports.
“We are a crucial part of the whole ecosystem and economy,” says Goldie.
“We keep everything glued together.”
Itravel is a family business, and Goldie says that’s true of many of his small business counterparts who are taking part in the day of action. These are entrepreneurs who care deeply about their businesses and their industry, and they won’t go down without a fight.
Goldie even sold her car to help keep her business afloat, she says.
“I could have left two years ago, but it’s something I’ve done for most of my life,” she says.
“For half my life I’ve lived in this world and I wouldn’t be anywhere else, especially because of the industry – the people who live there are amazing.”