• Tony Bosworth

Hawkesbury travel agents call for budget support as their businesses struggle

Closed borders due to the Covid pandemic have caused havoc with peoples’ travel plans, but what’s often forgotten is how the shut-down has affected those booking the holidays and business trips – local travel agents.

Federal Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman with (from left) Katrina Roberts, Diane Morel and Carolyn Burgmann

Now agents in the Hawkesbury are lending their voices to a call for an

industry-specific package of measures to be delivered in next week’s Federal Budget to help them get through the pandemic.

Katrina Roberts of Richmond Travel Centre says the drop in business has resulted in the loss of two staff members.

“Two found new jobs because they could see the writing on the wall, and we understand that,” Ms Roberts said.

“We’re all locals. I am a Richmond girl through and through, and it’s heartbreaking, the rug has been pulled from under me. It’s going to be a very slow crawl back.

“We’ve taken this time to renovate. We didn’t spend a lot of money but we want to give people the confidence that we are going to stick around.”

Carolyn Burgmann of Travel Managers in Bowen Mountain said JobKeeper had helped “keep our heads above water”, and it was important to remind people booking through a travel agent had great benefits.

“You have safety because your funds are secure, you have our research services, and you have 27/4 assistance, which has really come to the fore with clients who were stuck overseas,” Ms Burgmann said.

Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains travel agent representatives met with Macquarie MP, Susan Templeman, on Friday to update her on the continuing strains being placed on the industry in the light of cuts to the JobKeeper subsidy prior to next week’s Budget.

CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, Darren Rudd, joined the group by phone.

“Travel agents were one of the first industries to lose business, and will be one of the last to recover from this pandemic. International borders are closed and interstate travel has been severely restricted,” Ms Templeman said.

“These local agents live and work in the area, and they employ local people. When JobKeeper wound back on September 28, it put more pressure on them, and that is going to have a ripple effect on our local economy.”

Managing Director of Winmalee-based Medical Tours Australia, Diane Morel, said her business, which specialises in medical conferences, suffered as soon as the pandemic hit.

“It hit my business straight away, with having to make the decision about what to do with conferences and protecting my clients’ funds,” Ms Morel said.

The industry is pushing for the introduction of rapid Covid testing and a $125 million rescue package from the Government ahead of the Budget.

“I have met with travel agents several times during this pandemic and I want to make sure they aren’t forgotten as we find a path back out,” Ms Templeman said.

“We will all be watching the Budget delivery very closely to see if the Morrison Government makes a genuine effort to help local people like Katrina, Diane and Carolyn and the other local travel agents so their businesses can recover and thrive.”

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