Travel agents picket MPs officers over stalled cruise ship industry

Travel operators across the country will picket federal MPs’ offices today in a bid to get the travel industry back up and running.

Last month the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, said that ships would be banned from entering Australia until at least February 17.

The chief executive of the Gold Coast-based Bob Wood Cruise Group, Jay McKenzie, said uncertainty around the stalled cruise ship industry was crippling his business.

“If we looked back to November last year we had Greg Hunt, the federal minister, saying we would have cruise ships back in Australia before Christmas,” she said.

“Unfortunately, come the middle of December they decided to extend the cruise ban until February 17.

“We have a real concern that within the next three or four weeks they’re just going to roll that ban over again.”

The Robina-based agent says many different sectors of the travel industry rely on cruising, including booking agents.

a closed travel agency displays closed signs on its doors

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents says Australians are holding over $8 billion in international travel credits.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

“There are companies like mine which are a destination management company,” she said.

“We looked after the various ships when they came into the ports along the Queensland coast and around Australia.

“We’ve got one of the largest providers of cruise ship entertainers based here. We’ve got growers, wineries, tour guides and they’re all based here on the Gold Coast.

“They’re all desperate for the industry to restart.”

Ms McKenzie said the industry needed a road map to provide certainty so cruise line companies could begin the process of scheduling cruises.

“It takes two to three months to get a cruise ship into Australian waters,” she said.

“Even if they do say on February 17 that the ban is not going to be extended, we won’t see a ship here until the end of May, beginning of June.”

Funding sought

During the pandemic travel agencies had access to JobKeeper and targeted grants, but the chief executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), Dean Long, said more support was needed.

“What we are looking for is around $230 million to support the travel agents sector and the travel community,” he said.

“That’s broken up into two tranches: One is a business support package which will assist in cash flow; the second part will be a skills retention package which is about $100 million to help their businesses re-engage their employees.”

Qantas plane taking off.

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents says more than 15,000 people have left the industry during the pandemic.(AAP)

Mr Long said Australians were holding more than $8 billion in international travel credits and there was a shortage of agents to process travel arrangements.

“We’ve lost over 15,000 employees through the first 24 months of this pandemic,” he said.

“Without additional support we are looking at losing another 10,000.”

Walked away

Annie Ajayi lives on the Gold Coast and worked as a travel agent for more than 18 years, until recently.

“It’s just been a roller-coaster ride,” she said.

“My mortgage kicks back this month and I’ve had to take a full-time position outside of travel.”

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