On 25 March, AFTA announced that it would move to a monitor and support framework to ensure that members had the support they need to get through COVID-19.
This commitment saw the removal of membership fees, changes to the annual ATAS renewal period to remove any barriers to membership, mental wellbeing crisis support, and extensive political lobbying which gave rise to government support measures being adopted on an economy wide scale.
AFTA has also executed an extensive webinar program which has seen some 9,000 members engage across 48 different webinars on; economic support packages, terms and conditions, cancellation and refunds, insurance, JobKeeper, rent relief, financial and business considerations throughout the down-turn and the weekly AFTA update to ensure that members stay informed of the ongoing work AFTA is doing to support members.
Seventy-six days later, AFTA maintains this commitment to its 3,000 ATAS accredited members and its workforce of some 40,000 employees.
The challenges that exist (and continue) have been many; insurance, chargebacks, rent, refunds and cancellations, IATA and international and state border closures.
At this present time however, the single biggest challenge AFTA is tackling is an extension of JobKeeper. Wages make up the greatest proportion of all travel industry costs, comprising over 50% of operating costs of traditional shop front travel agencies. The JobKeeper program has been instrumental in enabling businesses, particularly SMEs, retain many trained and experienced staff while the economy is in hibernation mode.
AFTA’s most recent submission to the Treasury Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit meticulously details the industry impact and the resounding effects that an abrupt end to this program would have on the Australian travel ecosystem.
Results of the recent AFTA Travel Agent Membership Survey show that 82% of respondents have experienced a 100% revenue decline as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A further 16% have experienced a 90% decline in revenue. Given these significant revenue declines, travel businesses of all sizes were eligible for the JobKeeper program. 97% of all survey respondents said that they had successfully enrolled.
The submission demonstrates that the JobKeeper program has been critical to the survival of travel agencies. When survey respondents were asked what they intend to do if the JobKeeper payment doesn’t continue beyond September 2020, 42% responded that they intend to either permanently or temporarily close their business.
AFTA acknowledges that as inter and intra-state travel restrictions ease revenues are expected to lift slightly, but remain constrained due to continuing closures and restrictions, rising unemployment and consumer uncertainty.
AFTA is unable to promise an outcome, as this is well and truly in the hands of the Australian Government. However, members can be confident they have a strong voice in Canberra through AFTA.