Hunter travel company executive Brett Dann has joined calls for the federal government to help prop up the industry after six months of virtually no revenue.
Mr Dann, who owns the nationwide Hunter Travel Group, has introduced mental health programs for his staff as they deal with months of stressful customer refunds and an uncertain future.
All of his 180 mostly female employees are on JobKeeper, which drops from $1500 to $1200 a fortnight from Monday, but he plans to top up their wages by $300 to slow a "brain drain" of experienced staff and maintain levels of customer service.
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents this month made a submission to next week's federal budget calling for $125 million assistance targeted at the industry.
The package includes "back to business" payments averaging $40,000 per travel agency, $100,000 loans, $5000 vouchers for financial assessments and other measures to help businesses survive or close down without bankrupting franchise holders.
Mr Dann supported the call for financial support, especially for small operators.
He said his company would survive the COVID-19 pandemic but was losing $300,000 a month.
He estimated that 14 travel agencies in the Hunter had closed in the past six months, including eight Flight Centre stores.
In addition to the AFTA submission, Mr Dann would like to see the government allow workers who were on JobKeeper in a travel business, including those laid off in the Flight Centre shutdowns, to move to another travel business and keep the supplement.
Shortland MP Pat Conroy said he supported AFTA's call for "tailored assistance" for the industry.
"Over 90 per cent of their income comes from international travel, so unfortunately the reopening of domestic borders won't have a significant impact on their revenue," he said.
"Overseas travel is not going to be returning to normal any time soon, so we are talking about an industry that employs 40,000 people around the country who are going to be really struggling for the foreseeable future."
Mr Dann said 50 per cent of his business came from overseas travel, 30 per cent from domestic trips and 20 per cent from cruises.
"The travel industry was the first industry into COVID-19 and will be the last to recover. Our income stopped on March 17 and has been close to zero since.
"Our tally of client refunds for July and August alone, as an example, totalled $6 million, where normally those two months would see our sales at $30 million."
He said the industry was still processing $4 billion in refunds from overseas, leaving staff to "bear the brunt" of frustrated customers.
"Now that it's dragged on for nine months, it's quite a stressful industry for the guys. There's no fun in the industry any more. You're not making dreams any more.
"Refunds have been a major issue and have required substantial effort and pressure to get the client funds returned.
"Normally the process takes four to eight weeks, but some suppliers, including major airlines, are telling us that the refund to us to pass on to the client could be up to 12 months.
"I think, without JobKeeper, the industry would be decimated."
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