Speech: Tourism

Speech: Tourism Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (16:57): Thank you, Member for Perth, for this motion recognising how important our tourism sector is—particularly in my electorate—for local spending, regional jobs and supporting our local families. There is no more beautiful a place than the New South Wales South Coast. Sure, we've had our fair share of natural disasters of late—the worst imaginable bushfires, disaster declared floods and COVID—but we should never lose sight of why people come to our coast: for its natural beauty and to just get away. Who could resist the charm of Jervis Bay, Kiama, the Shoalhaven or the beautiful Eurobodalla?

Today I actually want to talk about the forgotten part of our talk on tourism: our travel agents. Over the last six months or so I have had so many travel agents contact me. I've also popped in and met with travel agents across my electorate to hear their story in person. It's fair to say the feeling amongst them is the same. Travel agents, like many people, have borne the brunt of these multiple disasters. In what is normally our busiest season—the summer—we had to turn our tourists away because of the bushfires. Multiple floods and COVID-19, which continues to haunt us today, have put more pressure on. Not only that, each of these disasters has added to the stress of travel agents, who needed to make sure their clients were safe, help them get information on evacuations, or help them get home from overseas or find alternatives. It's been tough.

When I met Bronwyn, a travel agent in Batemans Bay, she told me how she and her staff were spending much of their time refunding customers. I see travel agent staff working away diligently. I see travel agent owners doing everything they can to support their staff and customers but with little to no support, refund after refund that is absolutely needed but with little to no business income coming in. It is heartbreaking. One local travel agent explained to me that they were thankful for JobKeeper but the issue is, in most cases, there has been a 100 per cent decline in income. The money has just stopped.

With the Federal Government's plans to reduce the rate of JobKeeper, it will simply not sustain this industry which has been hit so hard.

The truth is there is no targeted Federal Government support for travel agents. Travel agents from Kiama to Ulladulla and Batemans Bay tell me they feel forgotten, abandoned in their time of need.

People have been very creative during the COVID-19 crisis, adapting to the new challenges: many cafes and restaurants ramping up takeaways; manufacturers and small businesses turning to production of hand sanitiser or face masks to meet the growing demand. Business may be down 30 per cent or more, but there is a glimmer of hope. It is absolutely wonderful to see. But with international borders closed indefinitely, and many state ones as well, it is very difficult for travel agents to repurpose and gain income.

One local travel agent who runs a very successful crafty international tours business relies 100 per cent on the international cruise and travel market. I listened to Joanne's heartbreaking story; she told me she wished her business hadn't been so successful, because now she has to undo each tour, bit by bit, and it is hard to take. How can the government abandon travel agents? Falling through the cracks seems to be a common theme of this government, with little care or concern. Why has the Prime Minister left travel agents out of targeted assistance?

When regional travel reopened in New South Wales, the Premier said, 'Now's the time to hop online and book a holiday.' Can you believe that? Travel agents told me it was insulting. How about encouraging people to book with a local travel agent instead and support local regional jobs? That's what we need.

I encourage everyone in our community to do just that. Call in or phone your local travel agent and book a regional holiday; support local travel agents, staff and their families, local people who shop in our local stores and kids who attend our local schools and contribute in so many ways.

My message for local travel agents is: 'I will not forget you. You are valued. You are doing valuable work. You are a valuable part of our community.' Prime Minister, it's about time you stepped up and helped our travel agents with targeted assistance. We don't need anyone else falling through the cracks.