Travel agents told to take a hike
Small and independent travel agents have been shut out from millions of dollars in emergency support as vaccine failures and border uncertainty push businesses to the brink of closure.
Mum and dad operators in NSW are pleading with the federal government to expand the eligibility for its grants scheme after many discovered they did not qualify on unreasonable technical grounds.
The government this week tipped an extra $130m into Round 2 of its Consumer Travel Support Program giving agents between $7,500 and $100,000 if they previously had a turnover of $50,000 and $20m in 2019, and had qualified for Round 1 grants.
Sydney agent Michael West said he was still waiting to hear if his appeal to get the grant was successful after initially being ruled ineligible in Round 1 because his company's structure was not compatible with the government's system.
"I looked at Round 2 as a glimmer of hope, but that went as soon as I saw they hadn't fixed the criteria from the issues the first time around," he said.
Mr West said the ongoing border uncertainty and delays in the vaccine rollout could be the final blow for his operation.
"Every day I'm open it costs me money for the systems, rent, licensing and insurance, and I still have an obligation to customers who are waiting for bookings on credit from before the pandemic," he said.
Tamworth-based travel agent Louise Brock was also devastated to learn she just fell shy of qualifying for the grants because she had taken time away from work to have a baby in 2019, so had reduced turnover compared to a normal year.
"I have three other jobs to keep the bills paid at the moment," she said.
"Many agency owners have indicated the same extension of support, as has been shown to Qantas would be more helpful in keeping staff employed, as opposed to the current grants system."
Labor's tourism spokesman Don Farrell said the small operators had been "left high and dry".
"I think the government has a special responsibility to look after these people because their business has been directly impacted by the border closure decision," he said.
Mr Farrell said independent agents urgently needed access to grants and those who had appealed denied applications deserved a prompt response.
"The government seems to have adopted the attitude that because borders aren't opening any time soon, some businesses are just going to have to fail," he said.
"We don't abandon farmers in a drought and international travel will return to normal one day so we need to back these people who have put their own money on the line to maintain their business."
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the first round of funding supported 3,000 travel agents with a share of $128m in grants.
Originally published as Travel agents told to take a hike