More than a year after COVID-19 first arrived in Australia, many industries have shown signs of recovery and have bounced back to where they were before the events of 2020.
But for the past 14 months, Claus Dirnberger has been living the same nightmare over and over again.
The director of Canberra-based travel agency Civic Travel said revenue had fallen by 95 per cent due to COVID-19, mainly due to the closure of international borders.
"It's been really bad. Like most travel agencies, we rely on international travel and that requires an open border," Mr Dirnberger said.
"For the past 12 months or so, business has pretty much consisted of refunds, and we're not only refunding the cost of the travel but the commission we've received, so we're basically now working for nothing."
During 2020, the business was able to survive thanks to the federal government support due to the JobKeeper scheme, which provided $1500 a fortnight for employees. Mr Dirnberger said JobKeeper allowed for Civic Travel to be in a neutral financial position for much of 2020.
But when the payments reduced to $1200 a fortnight and then to $1000 before being removed entirely, it put the company in a more vulnerable position.
He said more ongoing financial support for the sector was vital as the pandemic continued. "We are trying to save as much money as we can, but we are basically working for free and not making enough," Mr Dirnberger said. "We've had to dip into our reserves, and we hope there's a lift on international border restrictions by the end of the year. That's basically our deadline."
The travel agency director said ongoing payments from the federal government were more beneficial to helping keep the company afloat compared with one-off payments, despite those being targeted at the travel and tourism sectors.
Travel agents have been eligible to receive some funding under a $120 million federal scheme that was outlined in December, with a second round announced in March.
Mr Dirnberger said those payments were not enough in providing financial relief and more certainty was required for the sector in the months ahead. While international travel for Australians has resumed in a limited capacity with the start of the two-way travel bubble with New Zealand, the full reopening of overseas borders was needed for the company to survive.
"For that to happen, people need to be vaccinated, but that's not something that we can influence," he said.
In recent months, most of the business that Civic Travel has been undertaking has been booking travel arrangements for foreign embassy staff.
Mr Dirnberger said it was unlikely people going overseas for a holiday would happen any time soon, but said the sooner it was able to take place, the better. "We're just trying to get through the next few months until borders open again with minimal expenses and maximum business," he said.
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