Get ready for the new world

LAST month a survey of Travel Daily readers highlighted the key importance of the JobKeeper program in sustaining the industry through the dark times of COVID-19, with almost 100% of respondents confirming they had accessed the program. The research, conducted in partnership with Malcolm Peak of Peak Corporate Solutions, also reflected the paralysis that the coronavirus has enforced on travel agents, with many not yet making contingency plans for their longer term future.

Of the 72% that had undertaken some planning, about two-thirds were banking on a continuation of the JobKeeper program, half had planned for a relaxation of lockdowns and travel restrictions, and just over 28% had planned for ongoing rental relief.

“Interestingly, 47% had planned for no ongoing government support, and our view is that travel agents that had not incorporated this into their planning were risking being left without options over the coming months,” Peak wrote in his collation of the results. He also raised the concerning red flag that less than 1% of respondents had commented that they were likely to have to look for alternative employment. “Our view is that many more need to consider this option if they are unable to effectively put in place a plan that allows their business to operate in the new world post COVID-19,” he added.

A particularly sobering outcome from the survey related to the length of time respondents said they expected to be able to operate without government support if international travel restrictions continued to apply.

Less than 10% said they would be able to operate for 12 months under travel restrictions without supplementary income from the government, while two out of five expected to only survive for three months — in line with AFTA’s recent member survey which was used to bolster the Federation’s case for a JobKeeper extension for the travel industry.

The survey also gave an insight into industry perceptions of AFTA’s actions through the pandemic. It’s indisputable that the Federation has been working incessantly for months to promote the interests of agents, but much of the lobbying has been behind the scenes and that was clearly reflected in the outcome of the survey where a significant number of respondents commented on the need for a more public campaign — including educating the public on the refund processing practices of major airlines, and more positive promotion of travel agents in mainstream media.

As was demonstrated in the A Current Affair fiasco leading to the resignation of former AFTA CEO Jayson Westbury, it is extremely difficult to turn the tide of negative media sentiment. Nevertheless many felt AFTA was not visible enough and despite the extensive education, training and support provided by the Federation through the pandemic, the perception by some was that more visibility was required.

The key outcome, according to Peak, is to note that while JobKeeper is giving the industry some breathing space, anyone in travel needs to be planning right now for a range of scenarios so they can sustain their businesses in the long term.