12 Apr 2021

Trans-Tasman bubble not enough to fully revive travel agencies yet - TAANZ

7:11 pm on 12 April 2021

The opening of a trans-Tasman travel bubble will not be enough to revive the travel advisory industry in the short term.

Travelling during covid-19 pandemic. New Zealand passport and protective mask on black suitcase

Photo: 123rf.com

An estimated 70 percent of travel agents have left the industry over the past year, as shops were closed and staff were sacked when the pandemic hit.

Travel Agents Association (TAANZ) president Brent Thomas said there were about 5000 travel agents before the pandemic but that had since dropped to about 1500.

He said the bubble had thrown a bone to businesses, but it would not be enough for firms to begin rehiring staff.

"We are hoping now [with the travel bubble] we will start to see some sales come back in and therefore start re-employing, but we do need to see those numbers coming back in first before we are able to move on the employment side of things."

Thomas expected it may be a year before there were signs of a recovery in staff numbers.

"We're now looking forward to the government saying it's safe to travel to places like the Cook [Islands] and then hopefully Fiji as well, but obviously we are not going to see a lot of long-haul travel until at least 2022."

Despite the challenges, Thomas was optimistic about the industry's prospects because the pandemic had added a layer of complexity to booking travel overseas, which increased the value of agents' services.

In a statement, Minister for Consumer Affairs David Clark said: "I am aware that the end date of the scheme is approaching and that the travel industry is facing significant pressures due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19.

"Government officials are engaging with the travel industry to discuss the amount of consumer funds that remain locked up overseas and understand the impacts on industry and consumers if the Scheme was to end on 30 June.

"Until that information gathering work has progressed, I am unable to comment on the likelihood of the scheme being extended."

Recouping travel credit

The government launched a subsidy scheme to support travel agents last year as they worked on behalf of consumers to process refunds and redeem travel credits from overseas trips that had been cancelled.

Thomas said the scheme had been effective, with agents returning about $1.5 billion in the form of credits and refunds from offshore hotels, airlines and tourism operators to local customers.

However, he said the scheme, which concludes at the end of June, needed to be extended with about $500 million still tied up abroad.

"New Zealand consumers are going to find it difficult to deal with suppliers overseas, unlike a travel agent who has all the contacts, so there's huge value in having the travel agent there to support the consumer to either repatriate that $500m or a least use it in some sort of credit over the coming months or years."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs