THE end of JobKeeper will be just another day for those Newcastle businesses which initially used the subsidy before rallying to become ineligible for it months ago.
For others, primarily those in the travel sector, it is a very different story: Hunter Travel Group boss Brett Dann has warned that, without continuing support, between 85 and 90 per cent of the travel industry will be "decimated".
"Thankfully, due to our strong financial management, local network and customer support we will be in that 10 to 15 per cent that will survive, admittedly after burning considerable reserves to do so, but given our size [38 locations] we believe our advocating for the industry is important," Mr Dann said.
With JobKeeper central to helping travel businesses keep their doors open and support customers with cancellations, refunds and credits, Mr Dann reiterated calls for a "travel sector keeper program" to help the industry move forward.
"We have been working closely with the federal government to ensure they hear and understand our plight and have made it known just how vital ongoing financial support is for all travel industry businesses until international travel resumes."
The Morrison government dropped the fortnightly supplements from $1500 to $1200 on September 28 and to $1000 on January 4. The scheme expires on March 28. Treasury figures show about 88,300 Hunter workers received JobKeeper during its first phase, dropping to 29,300 by December.
On Monday, Julia van Huisstede and her sister-in-law Karen van Huisstede closed the doors of their second travel store, I Talk Travel at The Junction, after shutting their Maitland branch in October.
I Talk Travel now trades virtually and continues to take bookings until international travel reopens, when it plans to re-launch a store.
"Our forecast is its 12 months away until we see anything off the ground in international flights, and domestic [travel business] doesn't pay rent and wages," Julia said.
"To us, this [moment] is a little gap in the retail space ... a sensible business decision, because we are continuing to conserve and preserve."
Before COVID-19, the Van Huisstedes, along with Julia's husband Mark as a business parter, employed 16 staff. All 16 went on JobKeeper for at least six months until they began to find secure work.
The staff number has dropped to seven, including the Van Huisstedes. The trio have all found part-time jobs and they expect that when JobKeeper ends, remaining staff will leave.
"We personally need work with our income gone so we've had to prepare ourselves and our staff for what to do when JobKeeper ends," Julia said. "We suspect that when it does, it will be Karen and I left. Our staff are job-hunting or working part- or full-time and know if a tailored support package was brought out for our industry, then we'd keep going."
Julia said staff had been given the option of being a "mobile travel agent" for their business however acknowledged it would be difficult to juggle the role with other employment.
I Talk Travel traded at The Junction for six years and Maitland for 15. Collectively, Julia and Karen have worked in travel for 49 years.
"In three years time this will all be a part of the history of the business," Julia said. "We love our [new] jobs and maybe I'll keep working two days but our business is not going anywhere."
She urged people to have confidence in making domestic travel bookings and booking global trips from 2022 knowing their deposits are refundable.
"We hope that the community we have supported over the years... will think of us and support us," she said.
When JobKeeper began, 10 of the 28 staff at Newcastle West eatery Antojitos went on the subsidy. It switched to takeaway, with a "rocky" start because people were nervous to venture out.
"Takeaway food became increasingly important for those essential workers unable to stay at home," co-owner Bernadette Schmidt said.
Antojitos did not qualify for the second round of JobKeeper in September, however she said the supplement was initially crucial in retaining full-time, part-time and long-term casual staff.
Ms Schmidt believes most local eateries are back to normal trade, depending on their type and size: "However we are all subject to the daily waves that you ride dealing with COVID-19," she said.
Chris Johnston, who has 50 staff at his Newcastle cafes Suspension Espresso and Good Brother, said the initial JobKeeper had been a "god send" that gave his businesses confidence after they switched to takeaway trade only.
Grateful for his adaptive staff and community support, Mr Johnston said the businesses were ineligible for JobKeeper by September, which he did not mind.
"Firstly, the business was strong enough to continue and I didn't want the handout, despite being grateful; secondly, JobKeeper was a HR nightmare in a lot of ways," he said. "I was impressed by it generally, despite some inequalities. Our challenge was ensuring staff were looked after, that the playing field was even. It was tough keeping everyone buoyant and allocating shifts fairly. By the end we were emotionally and physically cooked. I've never seen it before where, across the board, everyone was just done."
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