Every industry has been affected by the COVID pandemic, but I would say none more so than those of us who have made a career out of sending Aussies all over the world to have amazing experiences. Saying that, for many agents like myself that have stuck around throughout the pandemic, our job has changed from sending people on fun holidays to battling government and airline regulations to help reunite families and couples all over the world. Round after round, we have taken hits from the government's constantly changing regulations and hit back using our years of experience and in-depth industry knowledge.
The latest slash in passenger numbers feels like a knockout blow. By allowing only 450 people a day into Australia, the Australian government has made getting our clients into Australia nearly impossible. To put that number into perspective, on a normal day in 2018, more than 25,000 people would pass through our international airports. If that doesn’t hit home, picture an A380 aircraft with a capacity of 850+ people. Now picture that single plane half full, and that is the entire allocation currently allowed into Australia each day.
As I write this in mid July, the first seat available to get to Australia from the U.S. is on September 2nd, and is selling for more than $23,000 AUD. As an agent, you can't imagine how horrible it is day after day for me to have to say to people “I'm sorry, if you want to get home to your family in the next 3 months it is going to cost you more than $15,000 AUD for flights”. Add to that $3,000 for hotel quarantine, and it's simply unaffordable for most.
Somehow the worst thing about all of this isn't the lack of available flights, or having to break the bad news to our clients. The worst part about the entire scenario is that somehow people think that travel agents are profiting from all of this. As flights that originate outside of Australia generally don't pay commission to travel agents, we make next to nothing. I recently booked a $14,000 flight for a woman to get back to Australia to see her dying mother, and I charged her my standard $120 service fee. My total income from taking $14,000 from this poor woman? - $120. That's $120 before tax, before all small business expenses, taking into account the 10 years of experience it took me to be able to get her that seat, the hours I spent on hold to the airlines when they made a schedule change, and the 26 emails I received from this woman asking questions about her journey. And yes, she did get home.
Every single day I see comments online saying things like “Don’t use travel agents, it's their fault the prices for flights are so high”, “Travel agents are useless, I don't know why you would want to be one”, ect ect. I can tell you now, ANYONE who still decides to be an independent travel agent in Australia at the moment is doing it for one reason - WE WANT TO HELP. I would make more money flipping burgers, or cleaning toilets, but I am standing by my industry and my career, because I know there are thousands of people all over the world that need our help.
Why am I writing this? Is it for sympathy? No. I don't need a shoulder to cry on.
What I need is for people who have no idea about the inner workings of the travel industry to leave it to the professionals. Leave it to the people who have a daily 2-3 hour phone hold to each major airline scheduled in their calendar. Leave it to the people who cry when they receive notifications about airline schedule changes as they know the names of all the clients it will affect. Leave it to the people that can tell you off the top of their head exactly what airlines are flying into what cities, exactly how many times a week they are flying this week, and how reliably they have been doing so over the last 18 months. Leave it to a trusted agent, and while you're at it, give them a hug and let them know you understand what they are going through.