Around half of Australia’s retail travel agents have gone out of business over the past six to seven months, Aito’s Alive and Kicking conference was told on Tuesday (15 December).
Representatives from three further-flung regions, Australia, Africa and Latin America, updated delegates on how their members, travel industries and regional economies had fared.
Brett Jardine, chief executive of the Council of Australian Tour Operators (Cato), revealed the dire impact of the Covid crisis on agents through whom many of Cato’s members sell.
Jardine said in the early stages of the crisis, the Australian government had pulled several macro-economic levers to support businesses – including introducing a furlough scheme.
He explained it took an "incredible groundswell" of grassroots lobbying to highlight to government the need for a recently announced £70 million support package for travel.
However, he said a "last-minute" decision to base payouts on gross profit instead of turnover had "dampened" some of the trade’s initial optimism.
Reflecting on Cato’s experience, Jardine said "by and large", the council’s members had "hung in there". "I’m not aware of members who have been forced to close," he said.
This, though, he revealed came in stark contract to the impact on the high street retail space, which he said had contracted by around 50% in terms of travel.
He said the key focus for Cato was now to raise awareness among government of the "significant cash lag" its members were experiencing, which could continue for up to at least another year. "That’s the period we need support to cover us," he said.
Jardine said all eyes in Australia were now on the UK and the impact of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which he felt may yet prove an out for Australia and New Zealand before efforts to establish "safe travel bubbles" between neighbouring countries come to fruition.
He also stressed efforts to suppress community transmission of Covid had boosted consumer confidence, resulting in a spike in domestic and international enquiries for Cato members.
Nigel Vere-Nicoll, president of the African Travel and Tourism Association (Atta), said Africa’s biggest problem had been its treatment compared to other destinations, given its comparatively low rates of Covid infection and mortality.
He lamented, in particular, the lack of UK travel corridors to Africa, of which there are still only three, and the "very unfair playing field Africa was presented".
"There were other countries in other continents with far worse Covid-19 experiences than Africa," he said, stressing the association would continue to lobby for more travel corridors.
Vere-Nicoll added it was vital associations like Atta work with international counterparts to work on testing, regulation and logistics to solve travel problems.
Danny Callaghan, chief executive of the Latin American Travel Association (Lata), said most Latin American nations had fared well owing to locking down early, and were now in a good position to look at welcoming tourists back owing to the wide range of "uncrowded wilderness" settings it could offer travellers.
"It won’t be long," he said. "Tourist boards and governments understand the importance of tourism."