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First signs of ‘current and future employment carnage’

August 10, 2020 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Latest tourism employment figures, just released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), contain the first indications of a looming collapse, with the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) warning that the disquieting labour statistics “only hint at the current and future employment carnage across travel agencies”.

The statistics for the quarter up to the end of this March show:

    • tourism filled jobs in Australia decreased by 3% (down 21,900) compared to an increase of 1.7% (+243,900) in the whole economy
    • the total number of tourism filled jobs at the end of March was 702,700
    • the fall in tourism filled jobs of 3% was the largest fall in the time series which commenced in September 2004

The ABS Tourism Satellite Account: Tourism Labour Statistics track the health of the tourism sector over the year to March 2020 and capture the impact of the December 2019 and January bushfires and the beginning of international travel restrictions due to Covid-19.

Key Covid-19 dates during the period surveyed are:

    • 20 March: Australia’s international borders close to all non-citizens and non-residents.
    • 21 March: Domestic travel restrictions begin. Tasmania first state to require people entering to self-isolate for 14 days from arrival.
    • 22 March: Prime Minister announces Stage 2 lock down changes, which are progressively implemented.
    • 30 March: Prime Minister announces JobKeeper program.

Head of ABS Tourism Statistics, Amanda Clark, said the experimental estimates show that the March quarter took a heavier toll on tourism jobs than on jobs in the overall economy.

“The number of filled jobs in the tourism industry fell 3% between March 2019 and March 2020, while economy wide filled jobs grew by 1.7%,” she said.

“While many areas of tourism activity were adversely affected, filled jobs in accommodation services fell the most, decreasing 11,600 jobs between March 2019 and March 2020.”

Clark added: “Tourism activities tend to be labour intensive and this data shows the impact of the bushfires and the early stages of COVID-19 on the tourism industry.”

It’s tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. Domestic Covid-19 pandemic restrictions came into effect from 21 March and may have had minimal impact on the results captured in the ABS figures. The June quarter stats (scheduled for release in late September) will show further impacts of Covid-19 on tourism activity.

The quarterly report to end-of-March shows that the impact of the bushfires and the beginning of Covid-19 alone cost the sector 21,900 jobs – 74% of which were full-time positions. This is the largest ever fall recorded by the ABS since tracking of tourism jobs began in 2004.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel agents operated close to 3000 locations nationally and employed 40,000 Australians,” AFTA chief executive Darren Rudd commented.

“A recent AFTA member survey showed 98% of our member travel agents have seen revenues drop by 90% and more as a result of the pandemic.“These ABS quarterly stats reflect the fact that tourism has been harder hit than the wider economy – however we know from our member agents that while JobKeeper has been a very welcome lifeline to keep travel consultants working, this situation has already worsened significantly since March.

“AFTA continues to work closely and collaboratively with government and across the business community to find the best path forward that will allow things to start returning to normal while accommodating the necessary health measures. In addition to pushing for additional support, AFTA continues to push hard for the introduction of travel bubbles.”

Rudd welcomed the federal government’s decision to ease JobKeeper eligibility to allow businesses easier access to the extension.

But he added: “Only three countries in the world have completely closed their borders – India, New Zealand and Australia. 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.”


Edited by Peter Needham

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