Travel industry staff face uncertain future since pandemic


By Jade Boncukcular

Pandemic forces Flight Centre store closures and two-thirds of staff were either stood down or made redundant.

Eight months have passed since most major travel agencies were closed due to COVID-19, leaving thousands of tourism industry professionals to reconsider their livelihoods.

Approximately two thirds of Flight Centre employees globally were either stood down or made redundant since agency closures began in March. With no return date in sight for overseas travel, a number of travel industry employees are facing uncertain futures, with some being forced into career changes.

Aprill Manders was a travel consultant at Flight Centre for two years before being stood down. While she hoped to continue working in the travel industry, she has moved into a business administration role with wholesaler DATS, as she could not secure a home loan on JobKeeper payments.

“The pandemic has forced me to move into an entirely different industry.”

“My partner and I were looking to build our first home when the pandemic first started, but due to me being stood down from Flight Centre, I was not able to get a home loan because the major banks were not accepting JobKeeper as a stable income. I’ve had to leave travel behind and now I’m working somewhere I never imagined I would be,” she says.

While Manders has managed to secure employment elsewhere, others in the industry have not been so lucky.

Jed Buencillo was a high-ranking area manager at Universal Traveller, but was made redundant earlier this year and remains unemployed. His only source of income is JobSeeker payments, which have dropped from about $1,115 to $815 per fortnight with more cuts expected in the future.

“A lot of people are still relying on government funding, and a lot lost their livelihood,” Buencillo says.

“Flight Centre had to reduce its expenditure by approximately two thirds in order to survive this period, so staff like myself had to be made redundant.”

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt has implied that it will be a “very significant” amount of time until interstate and international travel for leisure resumes completely. This leaves thousands of travel industry workers without guaranteed income for the foreseeable future, including the six thousand stood down from Flight Centre—many who have now been made redundant.

Flight Centre has been fighting for its survival during the pandemic, after refunding over $1 billion to customers, while still waiting on their own refunds from suppliers.

Although his immediate future is uncertain, Buencillo is confident the travel industry will return once state and country borders open.

“The first thing that people will want to buy would be a plane ticket out of here to do something interesting and get out of their mundane bubble,” he says. “This will get people like myself back into our jobs and restore some normality in our lives.”