Travel refunds: Agents pile on pressure to expand Government scheme

Travel agents are renewing calls for theGovernment to expand a scheme that allows them to claim commissions for up to $500 million worth of unused overseas trips.

The move comes as agents lose more business because of the transtasman bubble pause and there are doubts about how quickly travel could recover when it reopens. The tweaks sought are a big source of irritation for travel agents, whose sector has been devastated by Covid-19.

The Travel Agents Association of NZ (Taanz) has now enlisted the support of National Party tourism and commerce and consumer affairs spokesman Todd McClay.

He has written to Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark, urging him to restructure the scheme.

Travel agents have recovered an estimated $430m in refunds and credits for New Zealanders unable to travel because of border closures.

Last year, following engagement with the travel industry, the Government set up the $47.2m Consumer Travel Reimbursement Scheme, a fund that has helped the agents recover hundreds of millions for Kiwis who have had travel cancelled due to Covid.

The scheme pays an agent a small fee when they recover a refund or a credit for cancelled travel.

Taanz says the recovered funds are often from complex travel arrangements offshore that people probably could not get refunded themselves.

However, due to some of the rules about what agents and suppliers can claim, approximately $20m of the $47.2m allocated remains unclaimed.

In his letter to Clark, McClay says the reimbursement rate for credits and commencement date for the scheme should better reflect the effort and cost incurred by agents in recovering funds for Kiwis.

”Given the slow pace of vaccine rollout, the suspension of quarantine-free travel to Australia and ongoing uncertainty over when the border will reopen, they request that you revisit decisions made in respect of the scheme.”

Taanz wants commission paid out on credits to be raised from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent and the scheme backdated from August 14 last year to June 5.

While the scheme was extended by six months,the association believes further changes are necessary to unlock the funding.

The president of Taanz, Brent Thomas, said the industry is grateful for McClay’s support. “It is heartening to receive support for the industry and having others lend their voices to ours,” he said.

“We know all sorts of sectors have been impacted by Covid; we aren’t asking for more money. We are just asking for access to what the Government has already allocated the industry while we await a clear action plan for when borders are open.”

Clark’s office said the minister ”has nothing further to add.”

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