Bay of Plenty travel agents are having to lay off staff and some are closing - and owners warn more could follow if the Government fails to provide more funding for an industry annihilated by Covid-19.
Katherine Madill, who worked for Travelcom, said being made redundant alongside five colleagues was devastating.
"We were like a family.
"This pandemic has affected absolutely everyone in the travel industry and so many have lost their jobs, as international borders remain closed and the government wage subsidy ended. Even those still with jobs are taking up to 50 per cent pay cuts and limited hours."
Madill has started her own travel business as a travel broker with The Private Travel Company "but making ends meet is a problem with no reliable income".
She had casual short-term work for the Election Commission, along with many other travel agents, while others were Covid-tracers.
"We continue to work for free managing our clients' refunds and credits, as millions of dollars-worth of travel arrangements are with overseas companies. One thing for sure – travel agents are a resilient bunch."
Travelcom owner Don Menzies said it had vacated its premises to cut costs and the remainder of his staff continued to work from home.
He said having to do the redundancies was "horrible as many of them had been with me for more than 20 years".
Other business owners also told NZME about the impacts of shutting down stores, making long-term employees redundant and taking out personal mortgages to try to survive.
Holidaymakers still seeking to get refunds might also be out of luck if their agent goes under, they say.
Meanwhile, sector leaders had met with Ministers Kris Faafoi and Kelvin Davis to discuss further support and the challenges it was facing.
YOU Travel Bethlehem, Mount Maunganui, Katikati managing director Kay Rogers said the impact had "been devastating financially to our business".
Two of its three stores had closed to minimise operational costs and reduce overheads.
"This has meant that 75 per cent of our staff have been made redundant. The three staff we have kept, remain a necessity to cope with the workload from the cancelled and postponed files that are ongoing.
"I am feeling the financial pressure, due to the refinancing of personal mortgages to pay remaining staff and to attempt to keep the business afloat.
"The staff are aware of our situation, so they feel powerless and nervous about their own financial long-term security," she said.
"It's difficult to reinvent yourselves when 90 per cent of your time is already spent dealing with overseas travel that has already been disrupted, and the unravelling of those files. The sheer volume and the process of applying for refunds and credits with much less staff, and the fact that the travel arrangements are still being cancelled today.
"If we close the doors now, there is absolutely no one who would be able to recover the hundreds of thousands of dollars we have outstanding as refunds and credits to date.
"That's the bottom line."
But Rogers said she would not give up easily.
"I feel responsible for the staff we have left and an even bigger responsibility towards our clients who trusted us to look after them."
Joanna Corbett, from Galaxy Travel in Rotorua, said the business had been working for more than five months with no income.
"We have taken advantage of the wage subsidies offered to all industries and have been very appreciative of that. However, we cannot sustain the cost of running a team and office without financial support."
One agency had closed in Rotorua, she said.
Some suppliers including airlines, cruise companies and hotels were only offering credits.
"It is paramount we all stay in business to protect those refunds and credits."
But she remained optimistic about her business.
"I am always a positive person so maybe I am not realistic.
"We have been promoting New Zealand in all forms and are specialists in snow, bike and golfing holidays. We find Kiwis prefer to book themselves as we are an independent bunch.
"So it is only a drop in the bucket."
Helloworld Travel Rotorua owner Deborah Kay said it was "doing really well, all things considered".
"The lovely messages of support and gifts received from our loyal customers have really been appreciated. We've helped hundreds of clients with cancelled and altered travel plans over the past six months and are continuing to do so."
She had managed to keep all her team, "even though everyone is on reduced hours and reduced income".
Unfortunately, the industry had seen a lot of Covid-19 casualties, she said.
"Some very good people have left the industry and some very good businesses have closed down. It is simply not viable for many to sustain operating on negative income.
"Some businesses have gone into 'hibernation' and are working from home to reduce operational expenses, some businesses have amalgamated with other offices and some staff are taking on other part-time work in order to survive."
Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi confirmed the Government had been engaging with travel agencies and New Zealand-based travel suppliers to understand the challenges the industry was facing and how the Government might support them to return funds to New Zealand consumers.
Decisions around any support were expected to be made in the coming weeks.
Faafoi said it's "my understanding that many customers are making their own efforts to claim refunds on travel they have had to cancel because of Covid".
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government was standing beside businesses and households to cushion the blow of the 1-in-100-year shock caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Andrew Olsen, from Travel Agents Association of New Zealand, said all eyes were on a Tasman bubble but "the Victorian resurgence, then our own, has put all that on hold and with it the livelihoods of our members".
He said Covid-19 had changed the industry forever but "our members are a resilient lot and I'm proud of how they have battled through".
The outbound travel industry was worth $4.5 billion nationally.
How do agents see the future?
"When travel does return, it will really return. It always does, there's nothing surer. Overseas travel is a rite of passage for Kiwis, there will always be that desire to travel and the need for a travel expert is more vital now than ever. Travel will be even more treasured and people will not hesitate to go and see and do the things they have always wanted to do in the newfound knowledge that circumstances can change very rapidly. The sooner protocols are in place to allow international travel, the better our business, our industry and the NZ economy will fare."
- helloworld Travel Rotorua owner Deborah Kay
"The future post-Covid will be about those business owners who were able to find the mental capacity to believe that we will ALL have ... a post-Covid world to live in. A much-improved PR for the public regarding an understanding of the role that travel agents play in the global outbound travel market, in terms of the 'value' of dealing with a professional. We believe the frustrations and lack of understanding about what disruptions mean to those who booked travel 'online' during this Covid crisis will be to our advantage."
- YOU Travel Bethlehem, Mount Maunganui, Katikati managing director Kay Rogers
"If we can hang in there any which way, we will be inundated with bookings for lots of reasons. But it will have changed. No doubt. Less airlines, less travel agencies, less brokers, more restrictions, less confidence. All the more reason to contact your dedicated travel guru. And keep us busy ... please."
- Joanna Corbett, Galaxy Travel in Rotorua
Are you struggling to get a travel refund?
• In the case where their travel agency has become insolvent, consumers should contact their travel suppliers (ie, airlines, hotels, etc) directly to inquire about the status of their booking, and to retrieve their funds or rebook any credits.
• In some cases, bookings may have been transferred to other travel agencies. If a consumer used a credit or debit card to pay, they can also apply to their bank for a chargeback.
- Source Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi