He believes the government holds two key responsibilities in relation to the travel industry: to announce a clear plan for reopening the borders and to provide support for the industry by releasing the remaining funding in the Reimbursement Scheme, that will assist travel agents in weathering the latest suspension of the trans Tasman bubble.
‘New Zealand travel agents have done much to support local tourism, as well as investing thousands of hours into securing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of credits and refunds for Covid-impacted travel for their customers,’ he adds.
Thomas says an estimated $500 million in travel credits are still being held by airlines and overseas suppliers, and travel agents will play an essential role in unlocking those credits for customers when borders do eventually reopen.
‘There are numerous stories of Kiwis trying to access these credits by dealing with suppliers direct – spending countless hours on hold while trying fruitlessly to reach a satisfactory outcome. The alternative – taking advantage of the systems, contacts and expertise of a travel agent – is the far superior option.’
Thomas says that, due to some of the rules about what agents and suppliers can claim, approximately $20m of the Consumer Travel Reimbursement Scheme (of the total $47.2m allocated) remains unclaimed.
‘Agents are continuing to be called upon to assist travellers in navigating travel in a Covid world. The New Zealand Government’s Covid website actually recommends that foreign nationals wanting to get home should seek help from a travel agent, even if their original travel plans were not made through one. The government recognises the role played by travel agents, but it needs to back its position by providing financial relief to this hard-hit industry.’