Felicity Dascombe and the Hello World Kingaroy team are encouraging holidaymakers to support local businesses. Photo/Holly Cormack.
Felicity Dascombe and the Hello World Kingaroy team are encouraging holidaymakers to support local businesses. Photo/Holly Cormack.

Travel agency asks for community support during pandemic

IT'S a tough time to work in a travel agency.

With the borders shut tight and international travel out of the question, Hello World Travel Agency in Kingaroy has been quiet these past months.

However, despite Australia's tourism industry haemorrhaging $10 billion per month, owner Felicity Dascombe remains optimistic that, with a little push, the South Burnett community can band together in support of local business through domestic travel.

"There certainly has been a rise in domestic travel, but unfortunately, a lot of people are inclined to book themselves. We understand it can be easier, but we've just done quite a few packages for North Queensland, and we've actually come in cheaper than Webjet and Expedia," she said.

"With those companies, the money also goes overseas, so we try and encourage people to shop with us. The Hello World chain, we're not like other big companies that are owned by one governing body and a board of directors. We're all individually owned, so we put more back into the community."

According to Ms Dascombe, while the state and federal government are doing a great job, encouraging people to satisfy their travel urge a little closer to home, she believes the important role of travel agencies has been understated.

"I want to stress about the role of a travel agent. Some don't realise that we're even here. The Queensland Government, when they're promoting travel domestically, they're saying get online and book yourself," she said.

"That's great, but maybe just add 'go see your travel agent'. Because we support all the tour operators as well, and we support local business. You're supporting everyone that way."

As the pandemic took hold, travel agents played a critical role in bringing the Aussies who were trapped overseas back home. She said during this time, she worked through the night and into the early hours of the morning to ensure her clients got home safely.

"As much as our business has been decimated by COVID, our first role was getting all our clients home. Borders were closing down, that was our biggest worry, getting them out of those countries and getting them home," she said.

"We're here to look after people's travel, not just to book it and send them on their way. So any cancellations, any hiccups along the way, we follow that. We had one gentlemen who was on the very last flight out of Singapore, just as they were shutting that airport down. We spent the whole weekend, all during the night and early hours of the morning - because of the time zone difference - just ensuring every customer got home."

Pre-COVID, Ms Dascombe said 80 per cent of the businesses relied on international travel, but now the team has no choice but the focus on domestic travel.

"During COVID we put packages together for the Bunya Mountains, Sunshine Coast, even Gympie, and using all local suppliers, so that way it supports them as well," she said.

"A lot of accommodation and tourist attractions are being supported by Queensland travel, and small towns are seeing a rise in visitors."

"I know a lot of the wineries are up and booming in the South Burnett. So, during this time, it's given us a chance to refocus on those other parts of our business as well."

While people are starting to get itchy feet, and wanting to get away in some shape or form, Ms Dascombe said many people are still cautious when it comes to group activities and tours.

"They're still cautious about the groups. Our day trips, such as whale watching, even though we can still operate, we've had to cancel due to lack of numbers. We rarely have to do that," she said.

"I think people are still a bit hesitant to travel in a group. They just want to be cautious. And that's understandable."

Sadly, Ms Dascombe said she's witnessed first hand the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on certain people in the travel industry, particularly slightly older women.

"Come March next year, when jobkeeper runs out, there's a lot of worry with older women on where they might find jobs. Some women, who've been owners of a travel agency for over 20 years, and run successful businesses, they suddenly can't even get a job at Aldi or Woolworths," she said.

"And in the travel industry, more women tend to not have full time secure jobs. If they are a mother, they tend to have more part time roles then their spouse or partner. Maybe if companies are cutting back, they will cut off the part timers first."

"In our business, we don't see that, we support women greatly. We have female bus drivers, female consultants - we support anyone that wants to work. And we're very flexible work environment."

While international travel seems light years away, Ms Dascombe said she's already witnessing worldwide trips booking out for 2022 and 2023.

"We have people coming in booking cruises, and they might not be till 2022. So, there's going to be very limited seats on planes and tours, because everyone wants to travel again," she said.

"Flights don't open up till 360 days before departure, but with cruising it's different. As a business, we're already planning right through to 2022 and 2023 with our group tours."

"A lot of suppliers are putting pandemic cover in place as well, so you'll have peace of mind should the pandemic extend or your trip be jeopardised."

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