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Tourism industry brink of collapse with 20,000 jobs gone as Aussies lose billions in cancelled trips

Closed borders, a deepening recession and enforced quarantine are combining to destroy Australia’s tourism industry, with more than 20,000 job already lost – and the damage will only get worse.

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents says 21,900 jobs have been lost so far –  74 per cent of which were full time positions – and a quick recovery once lockdowns are over is unlikely as so many Australians have lost money they had budgeted for holidays.

And estimated $10 billion remains tied up in cancelled holiday bookings – on flights, hotels, tours and car hire – and around 12 months needed to resolve the average claim for compensation.

‘Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel agents operated close to 3,000 locations nationally and employed 40,000 Australians,’ AFTA CEO Darren Rudd said.

The tourism industry is on the brink of collapse as Australians have been forced to cancel up to $10 billion in planned holidays, costing the sector 20,000 jobs (A woman pictured at Sydney Airport on August 7)

The tourism industry is on the brink of collapse as Australians have been forced to cancel up to $10 billion in planned holidays, costing the sector 20,000 jobs (A woman pictured at Sydney Airport on August 7)

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents has warned that 21,900 jobs have been lost so far, 74 per cent of which were full time positions. (A deserted Sydney Airport on August 5)

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents has warned that 21,900 jobs have been lost so far, 74 per cent of which were full time positions. (A deserted Sydney Airport on August 5)

‘A recent AFTA member survey showed 98 per cent of our member travel agents have seen revenue drop by 90 per cent and more as a result of the pandemic.’ 

Mr Rudd said the tourism industry has been hit hardest by ‘discriminatory’  lockdowns and AFTA is working with governments to ease restrictions as quickly as possible to salvage the diminishing number of viable businesses.

AFTA CEO Darren Rudd said the tourism industry has been hit hardest by COVID-19

AFTA CEO Darren Rudd said the tourism industry has been hit hardest by COVID-19

‘Only three countries in the world have completely closed their borders: India, New Zealand and Australia,’ he said.

‘While we understand the health rationale, we need to find a way forward by working together to end this commercial and cultural discrimination and get us travelling again.’ 

Travel agents have been put under lots of stress and are working overtime to help customers get their refunds, but the process is more complex than frustrated customers can appreciate.

Australian travel agents liaise with 52 international airlines, up to 70 cruise liners and thousands of hotels, each of which have different terms and conditions on cancellations.

On top of that each of the travel agents have their own terms and conditions, meaning customers could expect to be waiting up to a year before getting any refund.

 Perth travel agent Christine Ross has had to cancel up to $2 million worth of bookings, which is 50 per cent of her yearly takings.

‘Effectively the entire business has been decimated,’ she told ABC

Ms Ross said she and her remaining four staff are working overtime because COVID-19 has made it even harder to chase refunds, and are spending up to five hours a day on hold waiting to talk with wholesalers and airlines to undo bookings.

A survey of AFTA members found up to half of Australia’s 3,000 travel agencies could go out of business by Christmas.  

It is not just businesses, but would-be travellers who are out of pocket.

Marcus Towner and his family were meant to go on a five-week trip of a lifetime around Europe during winter, but instead are anxiously waiting for refunds after the holiday was cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Passengers are pictured checking in to a Jetstar flight at Sydney Airport on June 19, 2020, after some state borders re-opened

Passengers are pictured checking in to a Jetstar flight at Sydney Airport on June 19, 2020, after some state borders re-opened

Travel agents have been put under lots of stress and are working overtime to help customers get their refunds, but are losing money in the process

Travel agents have been put under lots of stress and are working overtime to help customers get their refunds, but are losing money in the process

Mr Towner said the trip was self-funded long-service leave, with tickets booked in business-class and finishing off with a friend’s wedding in London.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia, the $35,000 holiday had to be scrapped.

‘We were devastated because we were so looking forward to it, and being self-employed it’s not just something you can do on a whim,’ Mr Towner said. 

But the family luckily had travel insurance that did not exclude pandemics, meaning they are slowly getting their money back. 

‘Even after all that, we’re still waiting for a fairly large sum of money to come back for our flights, it’s the best part of 20 grand,’ he said.

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