What is it about the travel trade that the UK government, still, just doesn’t seem to quite get?
Down under, Australia has just pledged AUS $128 million (£70 million) to support its travel agents in acknowledgment of their continuing "hard work processing consumer refunds while unable to trade due to Covid-19".
Tourism minister Simon Birmingham said he recognised agents were operating in an "exceptional set of circumstances", where most agents are having to refund last year’s income while continuing to work with no additional income.
“Providing further assistance to travel agents in the current environment will help keep them afloat at a time when they are continuing to hold travel credits for consumers who have previously cancelled travel," said Birmingham.
Under the scheme, agents turning over between AUS $50,000 (£28,000) and AUS $20 million (£11 million) can apply for a one-off support payment of between AUS $1,500 (£850) and AUS $100,000 (£56,000).
This comes in addition to Australia’s other support mechanisms for businesses, such as its JobKeeper furlough scheme.
Australia’s Abta, the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (Afta), welcomed the government’s recognition of the plight facing agents.
“This package will help to ensure the sector’s sustainability to assist Australian travellers with the new world of Covid-safe travel," said chief Darren Rudd.
What is there not to get? We’ve not prettied any of this up – these statements come directly from an Australian government edict. They eloquently put across the point the industry here has been trying so hard to make for months.
In the UK, yes, we’ve had furlough, yes, we’ve had rates relief, and yes, there have been grants – although as TTG has found, award of these has been patchy.
Meanwhile, thousands more travel sector employees – most notably the self-employed – have fallen through cracks in government support.
With UK chancellor Rishi Sunak able to find billions for Serco’s tawdry test and trace effort, surely there’s £70 million down the back of the sofa at Number 11 Downing Street to support the British travel travel?
Perhaps the clue is in Birmingham’s title – tourism minister.
We have a tourism minister too, Nigel Huddleston, although his remit as "parliamentary under secretary of state for sport, tourism and heritage" also extends to gambling, lotteries and, err, the Commonwealth Games, not to mention the recovery of the culture, sports and arts sectors from Covid-19.
Note the absence there, when it comes to recovery, of tourism – and of travel, for that matter.
It’s not just agents that are falling through cracks in government support; ministerial responsibility for travel and tourism has long been far too widely divided between a number of departments, a point acknowledged during TTG’s Agenda 2021 conference this week by Huddleston’s counterpart Huw Merriman, chair of the government’s transport committee.
Speaking at Agenda 2021 this week, Huddleston defended the government’s support for travel and tourism.
"Of course, they’ve had support, massive amounts of support," he told TTG editor Sophie Griffiths.
"At the end of the day, we’ll end up having a calculation totalling up sector by sector what the support was in terms of grants, business rates relief, furlough, tax deferments, a whole host of things.
"And I think we’ll find, actually, the sectors we’re talking about – travel and tourism – actually got huge amounts of support."
He’s not wrong. We acknowledged as much a moment ago. But what is so sorely lacking here is the willingness to understand the sector in the way the Australian government has.
"Support" is one thing, tailored sector-specific support – the likes of which the TTG-led #SaveTravel campaign and Abta’s Save Future Travel campaign has been calling for since the summer – is another.
Yes, Australia’s agents are facing what is likely to be a more prolonged near-total cessation of all travel and tourism trade owing to the country’s stringent Covid border controls.
By contrast, with a Covid vaccine being rolled out in the UK as you read this, travel in the UK and Europe looks likely to resume and return to something more closely resembling a state of normality next year.
Nevertheless, for much of 2020, agents in the UK and Ireland have been exposed to trading conditions every bit as "exceptional" as those Simon Birmingham acknowledges.
It’s finally time government recognised this, and gave the trade the lifeline it so desperately needs to ensure we have a competitive, thriving trade ready to capitalise on the demand a vaccine will undoubtedly unlock.