The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) has claimed that 81 per cent of inbound tour operators (ITO) in Australia will close if the government’s JobKeeper scheme is not extended beyond March 2021.

Managing director of the ATEC Peter Shelley said that ITOs provide the conduit for millions of visitors coming to Australia each year, and that the end of JobKeeper will destroy Australia’s ability to get back in the game once borders re-open.

“Thousands of Australian businesses rely on the economic activity delivered by international visitors and around half of those visitors have been delivered though international retail travel agents serviced by Australian based ITOs  –  we simply can’t afford to lose their expertise, connections and experience,” he said.

“Australian based ITO businesses are the ‘on-the-ground’ network that understand the destination, they have established relationships with thousands of local tourism products and experiences from which they create tailored travel itineraries for international visitors.”

The ATEC claimed that Australia has traditionally had around 200 ITO businesses of varying sizes which support tourism businesses to connect with around 50 international markets. Mr Shelley said that without them we are likely to see the decimation of the Australian inbound travel distribution ecosystem.

“These are specialist businesses which have established unique commercial connections with travel wholesalers in our largest inbound markets around the world over half a century,” he said.

“The recovery of inbound tourism will be driven by international travellers booking with retail travel agents who will provide security around booking flexibility and deposits, manage changes to travel arrangements if required and above all, provide guidance on COVID safe travel.

“Without a strong Australian ITO network, travel retailers will simply direct their travellers to other destinations which are easier to book and service, leaving Australia and thousands of tourism businesses high and dry.

“While we are heartened to see Australians travelling domestically, domestic tourism spend will never replace the billions of dollars in export revenue delivered by international visitors, so it would be short sighted to rely on this current domestic enthusiasm to underpin the long term viability of our industry.

“Securing the future of a few hundred businesses and those that are the ‘connectors’ with international travellers, will be critical to our recovery and therefore an important short term investment in the future of our inbound tourism sector which will deliver enormous returns over future years.”