By Bruce Piper
“We know it’s tough” is perhaps the understatement of the year, but it was all the concrete information that the AFTA Board was able to offer to its members in a recent update, following the first in-person meeting of directors in more than a year.
Fortunately since then there have been several key developments — not least the opening of applications for the highly anticipated Round Two of the COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support grants program.
Worth $130 million to the industry, for all its imperfections the scheme comes along with the vital recognition by the Government that travel cannot return to normal trading until international borders open.
And that recognition is looking increasingly important, with vaccine hesitancy, the ham-fisted rollout and surges in overseas COVID-19 cases making a full resumption of international travel seemingly further off every day.
On top of that looms the spectre of a possible Federal election perhaps by the end of the year — which I presume is behind political rhetoric in recent days stressing the importance of keeping our COVID-safe bubble intact — no doubt playing to the populist crowd which has seen Governments in New Zealand, WA and Queensland returned with thumping majorities.
However every cloud has a silver lining, as they say, and the simplicity of the application process for the second round of the grants scheme has been a welcome change – and augurs well for perhaps a third and fourth round on a quarterly basis going forward.
All eyes will be on the Federal Budget next week to see if there is further support — and meanwhile many of those who are able to stop bewailing our fate have actually found that things are perhaps improving.
Consumer sentiment around travel appears strong, borne out by high levels of enquiry and bookings through New Zealand ski and touring operators.
One perpetually gloomy reader told travelBulletin that April had been his best month in a long time — but true to form added “but what will May be like?”
AFTA for its part is maintaining the rage, with Chairman Tom Manwaring giving us an insight into the new post-COVID world in this month’s cover story — and it’s a future that the industry needs to be preparing for now.