A Government commission scheme for struggling travel agents has so far paid out $21 million but an industry body fears hundreds of millions of Kiwis' spending on holidays overseas could go unclaimed.
Agents in the scheme are paid a commission of between 5 per cent and 7.5 per cent for credits or refunds they get back from overseas suppliers.
But the Travel Agents Association says that many more of its members could fail before they are able to get at least what could be close to $700m in what has been spent on overseas travel by New Zealanders.
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment scheme ends at the end of June and the $47m on offer to agents was well short of what the association and industry had sought.
Association president Brent Thomas said it had sought $180 million in direct support for the industry which has collapsed in the last 11 months.
This time last year about 5000 people were employed as agents or consultants around the country but there were now around 1800 still in the industry and some were just clinging on.
''The support is needed right here right now. We're in a position where the Government has set aside some funds but the industry won't be able to use them,'' said Thomas.
Most of those who lost their jobs were women, in many cases who were the main breadwinner for families, he said. The collapse of the industry reached deep into all parts of New Zealand.
''And it's a nightmare for the New Zealand consumer. If we're not around (they) will have to fend for themselves and apply for a future credit or a refund and from our experience it is very tricky.''
Those who were trying to recover their money through online travel agents (OTAs) faced even bigger headaches as these mainly overseas-based businesses without the staff or expertise to help customers.
With so much uncertainty over the timing of the resumption of international travel airlines and operators were now pushing out the time when those who have paid for a service take it up. In the meantime peoples' lives may have changed, said Thomas.
Some could die, some get ill and couples split with travel windows out two years now.
'''Air New Zealand is a classic example and we've got cruise companies that have pushed it out to 2023 as well. It's a long time away and circumstances will have changed,''' he said.
Some agents had switched to providing domestic trips and the internal corporate market was recovering. However, this came nowhere near the business from overseas travel.
While he understood the Government's caution on setting up travel bubbles, the industry wanted a timetable of what it would take to re-open the borders, especially now the vaccine is in sight in New Zealand.
''What is needed for New Zealanders is a definitive view on a timetable from the Government on two-way quarantine free travel for those countries closer to home that have little or no Covid-19 – or exactly what requirements need to met to give that view. ''
Before the pandemic New Zealanders took more than three million trips overseas and spent between $6.9 billion and $8 billion.