Ahead of next week’s budget, AFTA’s CEO Dean Long and a series of travel industry members paid a visit to the minister for foreign affairs Penny Wong to discuss what the travel industry needs.
The fireside chat featured a delegation of travel agents, tour operators, travel businesses and suppliers who gave a first-hand account of issues facing the travel industry and discussed getting the industry back to its pre-pandemic state.
Long told Travel Weekly that the nature of the conversation was to get minister Wong to understand what the macro issues facing the travel industry are.
“If we don’t have engagement with the political leaders of our country, we get lost behind other industries,” Long said.
So what were the key issues Long and the delegates discussed with Wong?
First, and seemingly the largest issue facing travel agents right now, was the impact that a skills shortage of travel agents has on the entire supply chain.
“We know the government has recently put the travel consultants on the skills list and that was a lot of work by us and that’s a real win,” Long said
“But that’s taking a little bit of time to speed up because there’s issues that need to be addressed. That was really insightful for the minister to hear about.
“If there’s a shortage at an agency, that then flows through to have an impact on a wholesaler and a tour operator and therefore impacts the quality experience that a Australian who’s walking through an ATAS business will have.”
To combat these issues, Long said he wants to see a funded strategy for skills and careers announced.
“That needs to be in this budget, it has to be a commitment.”
Continuing on this topic, Long told Travel Weekly: “The two things are definitely increased funding for travel consultants, making sure that category is available for agencies and wholesalers across their employment awards.
“That’s what we need to see, that has to happen. The only way we rebuild is to make sure our industry has the ability to get the employees that we need.
“And hopefully no tax increases.”
As everyone, regardless of industry, hopes for no further tax increases, Long told Travel Weekly that this is particularly important this budget considering the taxes enforced on the travel industry.
“What I’m concerned about is definitely an increase on taxes on our industry.
“We already pay $1.2 billion in taxes through the passenger movement charge. We already pay our fair share to cover the impact on the Australian budget.
“We’re really hopeful the government takes that into consideration next week.”
Moving on from taxes, Long said that during the catch up with minister Wong, the group discussed the importance of sustainability and Labor’s distinct climate action policies.
“One of the things that we spent a bit of time on was the impact of having a long period of time without a clear climate policy and that’s something that we’ve heard directly from members. Having a new government come in with a very clear agenda of what they’re trying to achieve, particularly towards 2050, allows businesses to invest in products and services that Australians are wanting to travel to and gives certainty for business.
“What we spoke in a little bit of detail about was the need to make sure – around those greenhouse gas protocols and around the modern slavery requirements – it’s very, very clear about who is responsible for those reporting’s, who is responsible for those emissions (and) who is responsible for ensuring compliance – which, at the moment, is a very grey area.
“Everybody in the room was acutely aware, we need to have sustainability of the core of what we’ve got, and really welcomed the ministers and the government’s engagement towards that 2050 target.”
Ethics of Tourism
Finally, Long told Travel Weekly that the group discussed the ethical qualms of travelling and selling travel to countries with contentious human rights records.
“The minister definitely referred back to the advice that Smartraveller has and those destinations that are ‘do not travel’ destinations that the government does not believe people should be facilitating travel to,” Long said.
“There’s a strong element of the role of travel plays in breaking down barriers. There’s a responsibility for the trade to be very particular about the countries that they are supporting with actively trying to promote travel.”
Long told Travel Weekly that he will be down in Canberra next week to read the budget papers “line by line.”