Some wind under local travel agent's wings

Local travel agents: (from left) Glenda Halliwell of Travel Centre Coffs Harbour, Lauris White of Helloworld Travel Nambucca, Kerry Moss of Quadrant Australia, James Cracknell of Windsong Travel Bellingen and Sawtell, Greta Lindsay of Helloworld Travel Coffs Harbour and Ian Carswell of Travel Associates Coffs Harbour.
Local travel agents: (from left) Glenda Halliwell of Travel Centre Coffs Harbour, Lauris White of Helloworld Travel Nambucca, Kerry Moss of Quadrant Australia, James Cracknell of Windsong Travel Bellingen and Sawtell, Greta Lindsay of Helloworld Travel Coffs Harbour and Ian Carswell of Travel Associates Coffs Harbour.

Local travel agents have welcomed the announcement of a one-off federal government payment to them during the toughest times the industry has ever faced.

Under the $128 million scheme, eligible travel agents with annual turnover of between $50,000 and $20 million can apply for a scaled payment ranging from a minimum of $1500 to a maximum of $100,000.

James Cracknell from Windsong Travel was one of the key people behind the campaign to get help for the industry, which has been hard hit by coronavirus shutdowns and travel restrictions.

He thinks Windsong will be eligible for $75,000 to keep its doors open in Bellingen, Sawtell, Coffs and Inverell.

Despite their income dropping away to nothing, travel agencies like his have continued the time-consuming process of securing refunds and credits for Australians who had booked flights, hotels and tours that they were unable to take.

James said the one-off payment will provide some relief, but he is still worried about how he will keep his staff when the JobKeeper payment decreases next month and then stops at the end of March.

He said basically the assistance would cover losses for six months and provide some hope where previously there was almost none.

"The best part of it is that the federal government has realised that our industry is suffering. But is it going to enable me to pay all my staff? The answer is no."

Nonetheless, he described the support package as very welcome and wanted to send his thanks to Cowper MP Pat Conaghan, who took up the cause.

"For a fresh-faced politician, he has stuck his neck out and did his best to secure about 40,000 jobs in our industry. He's been the leading federal MP driving this.

"He sat down and listened to us and was sympathetic to our cause, and understood if we didn't do it there was going to be a lot of unemployment within our region."

Anthony with Sue Gorman from Kempsey Travel and Cruise, Deputy PM Michael McCormack, Kempsey Mayor Liz Campbell and Cowper MP Pat Conaghan

Anthony with Sue Gorman from Kempsey Travel and Cruise, Deputy PM Michael McCormack, Kempsey Mayor Liz Campbell and Cowper MP Pat Conaghan

Mr Conaghan said the travel industry is important to his electorate, which is why he pushed for the Federal Nationals to call for an industry-specific support package.

"Travel agents in my region and indeed right across Australia have been some of the hardest hit businesses due to COVID-19," he said.

"We worked extremely hard to help secure this assistance package."

Australian Federation of Travel Agents Chief Executive Officer Darren Rudd also welcomed the assistance package.

"We are delighted that the Government has acknowledged the unique and challenging circumstances that travel agents have been confronted with," Mr Rudd said.

Meanwhile at Windsong, James Cracknell would like you to know that any bookings for domestic flights and accommodation are welcome.

"Nothing is too small. And thanks to the community for all the support and compliments we've received. People have been so sympathetic towards us."

Windsong is selling jewellery on their website and from the Sawtell office, and have also set up a booking site for domestic tourism.