Shouldering the burden of border battle

27/08/2020 - 10:54

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Border closures are having a magnified impact on some WA businesses, with calls for a clear strategy on reopening and possible compensation.

Shouldering the burden of border battle
Justin Poor says his travel management business has been crippled by border closures. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Justin Poor understood why governments acted to close borders when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia.

However, more than four months on, he said the lack of certainty was crushing his business, Sports Travel Managers.

“Government has to understand our industry is haemorrhaging,” Mr Poor told Business News.

Sports Travel Managers organises travel for businesses, sporting groups and young athletes, for events and competitions.

With international and interstate travel blocked, Mr Poor said the business had ground to a halt.

(click here to view a PDF version of the full special report)

It is not clear when the borders will reopen, with the state government revising its plan to relax restrictions this month due to outbreaks in Victoria, while international travel may be off the agenda until late 2021.

Mr Poor estimated he would lose as much as $500,000 in turnover.

He said domestic tourism was crucially important for Sports Travel Managers, making up between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of revenue.

“When the pandemic hit, everyone was in shock … close the border, we didn’t know how long it would last,” Mr Poor said.

“Even though it was tough for travel, you could just delay things or work with clients.”

Those hopes gradually disappeared, however, and Mr Poor said he was now unsure his business would survive.

The JobKeeper payment was covering part of Sports Travel Managers’ wages, although it only amounted to about 30 per cent of costs.

Mr Poor said he was fortunate he had fewer outgoings than other operators, such as those associated with a shopfront business.

“I’m just trying to keep my head above water with JobKeeper and doing contract work,” he said.

“[If it doesn’t change soon] I’d have to consider walking away from my business.

“There’s still no date [to reopen], and because there’s no date I can’t even ring my clients.

“There’s no surety the borders will come down.”

Mr Poor urged the state government to develop a clear and confident plan to reopen borders, or otherwise compensate those businesses most severely affected.

“Business shouldn’t be thrown under the bus … it’s killing the entire industry,” Mr Poor said.

“We’re just being told to put up and shut up.

“There’s a massive chain effect.

“There’s a bigger picture, people just think ‘travel agent’, there’s so much more to the industry.”

The supply chain in travel globally had been overwhelmed, he said, and it was about more than holidays.

“People don’t just travel for holidays,” he said.

“They need to travel for business, for their families, for sports.”

Mr Poor said the business community had split into two camps, but understood why some wanted to keep the borders closed.

“[There are] those who want to keep it locked down and those who can’t survive,” he said.

“If the insistence is the borders need to stay up, travel businesses need to be compensated.

“We’ve become so fearful we’ve forgotten how to be human.”

Industry

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Darren Rudd said almost all the agency’s membership had reported drops in revenue of 90 per cent or more during the pandemic.

“Only three countries in the world have completely closed their borders: India, New Zealand and Australia,” Mr Rudd said in a recent statement.

“While we understand the health rationale, we need to find a way forward by working together to end this commercial and cultural discrimination and get us travelling again.”

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed jobs in tourism fell 3 per cent nationally in the year to March 2020, driven by bushfires and the start of the pandemic.

In June, Tourism Council WA said research showed the state was losing 42 jobs every day interstate travel was banned, but declined to release the analysis to Business News.

Airbnb said in June that same-state travel was up 71 per cent in WA in the last week of May compared to the prior corresponding period, while Business News has reported positive sentiment among many tourism businesses in regional WA.

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