An approximate 70% of travel agents have abandoned the sector in the last year, when stores were closed and employees were laid off when the pandemic struck.
According to Brent Thomas, president of the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand, there were around 5000 travel agents before the pandemic, although that number has since fallen to about 1500.
He said that the bubble had tossed a bone to companies, but that it would not be enough for them to begin rehiring employees.
“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.
Minister for Consumer Affairs David Clark has been approached for comment
Recouping travel credit
Last year, the government introduced a subsidy programme to assist travel agencies in processing reimbursement and redeeming travel credits from cancelled international trips on behalf of customers.
Thomas stated that the scheme was successful, with agents returning approximately $1.5 billion to local customers in the form of credits and refunds from offshore hotels, airlines, and tourism operators.
However, he claimed that the programme, which expires at the end of June, needed to be renewed because around $500 million was still kept 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.”