International travel unlikely as agents call for government to support sector amid concerns for industry

Jamison Travel director Michelle Everson anticipated some travel bubbles would be possible this year, a glimmer of hope for her business of almost 30 years. Picture: Karleen Minney
Jamison Travel director Michelle Everson anticipated some travel bubbles would be possible this year, a glimmer of hope for her business of almost 30 years. Picture: Karleen Minney

Jamison Travel director Michelle Everson didn't have high expectations for a return to business in 2021, but the ember of excitement for a step towards international travel has now been snuffed out, leaving her concerned for what will happen next.

"The fact they were planning on rolling [the vaccine] out early, that did give us some level of optimism but I'm also mindful that's our country being vaccinated, there's a lot of countries out there ... that will be a long way from getting everyone vaccinated," Ms Everson said.

"We were anticipating the easing of border restrictions mid this year with a few travel bubbles - New Zealand, maybe Japan, maybe some Pacific islands - but that's looking a bit grim."

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said on Tuesday international travel borders would be "one of the last things to change", saying a vaccine roll out wouldn't mean the chance for an overseas escape.

"On travel, we have to be very careful ... the first vaccinations, as they roll out in a few weeks in Australia, will not change everything back to normal," Professor Kelly said.

Earlier this week, Australia's health department head Brendan Murphy also dashed travel dreams for 2021, saying it would be unlikely to return in a substanial way this year.

"The answer is probably no," Professor Murphy said.

"Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don't know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus."

Before the pandemic, international travel accounted for 90 per cent of the the Macquarie store's trade. Although Ms Everson pivoted to localised options, spruiking Sydney tours, coronavirus outbreaks and border closures continue to pose problems.

Jamison Travel director Michelle Everson said international trips made up 90 per cent of her business before coronavirus. Picture: Karleen Minney.

Jamison Travel director Michelle Everson said international trips made up 90 per cent of her business before coronavirus. Picture: Karleen Minney.

"We just have to be prepared to cancel or amend or move very quickly, and that's becoming our new normal," Ms Everson said.

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Darren Rudd said agents were in a dire situation, refunding some $10 billion of cancelled international travel in 2020 with few new bookings coming through.

He remains hopeful travel bubbles with New Zealand and some other countries would be possible and said without them or government support, up to 70 per cent of Australia's 40,000 travel agents could be forced to shut up shop.

He welcomed the federal government's $128-million program to boost the ailing sector, which would provide agents with grants between $1500 and $100,000, but said it wouldn't be enough.

Mr Rudd has echoed calls for an industry specific form of JobKeeper when the payments which have propped up the sector are cut-off in March.

"Until the borders opens up, until cash is flowing, until the confidence is up and until consumers are traveling for commerce or family reunions or fun. Until we have this eventuality we are looking at the erosion of skill and the exodus of that skill and it won't be able to be rebuilt overnight."

All of Ms Everson's staff are on JobKeeper and working reduced hours as there simply isn't as much work in "dismantling holidays" as there is in creating them.

When the payments stop, Ms Everson is very concerned about what will happen.

"I'd need to do a lot of soul searching about what I'd want to do," she said.

Regardless, government support will be critical to keep her business moving.

"There has to be something. We can't trade under our normal ways because of a government restriction," she said.

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When things do open up, Ms Everson is hoping for a queue at the door but keeping her hopes in check. She expects there will be a lot of trepidation about setting out for an international adventure.

"This is not of our doing ... this is not us being poor business people," she said.

"You've just got to ride the wave and hope you come out the other end."

This story 'Grim' year ahead for industry with travel prospects dashed first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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