DEAN Long, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Federation of Travel Agents

I can’t tell you how many times I have rewritten this column this month. Each and every time I thought I was finally in a position to put it to bed, something else would happen.

The news that Omicron is here is not unexpected but it is extremely disappointing to be back on the border closure rollercoaster again. The cumulative effect of border closures and travel restrictions both here in Australia and right around the world continues to kneecap client confidence.

Our focus at AFTA over the past six months has been to reinforce the critical need for ongoing support for our sector until at least the middle of next year. As the Federal Government moved into its election mode, we needed to be confident that our final push for support from this Government was targeted appropriately within their policy priorities.

We have continued to engage regularly with Tourism Minister Dan Tehan and, importantly, Chair Tom Manwaring and I recently met with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and a number of other key National MPs including Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan who has been and remains one of the biggest supporters of travel agents.

It is now clear that sector support is no longer the preferred approach by the Government, and this unfortunately includes Round 3. The Government’s primary focus is revitalising the Australian economy through skills and workforce development. We must pivot to advocate on this issue and ensure the Travel Sector receives additional support.

This month had already seen our advocacy widen to include this focus. The ongoing development of the skills along with the urgent need to attract and retain people in Travel is a critical conversation already underway with Government.

Our ask is for a support package of an additional $130M plus any remaining funds which we understand is around $60M from the COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Grant program. Our focus will be funding for a skills retention and attraction package to deliver to ensure the Sector has the skills employees it requires. We have issued an updated member toolkit to help our members help us in this push for support.