Northland travel agents are pleading with the Government to help their "haemorrhaging" industry survive a world of pain caused by Covid-19.
Hundreds of staff have already been made redundant around New Zealand, and those remaining are working to recoup around $2 billion in refunds and credits for customers who booked holidays overseas.
This is while making no income while the borders remain closed and despite having to pay rent, overheads and top up staff wages from the wage subsidy scheme, which comes to an end on September 1.
You Travel Whangārei owner Stephanie Mitchell has taken out a second mortgage on her home to cover the wages of her four remaining staff after two were laid off.
"The biggest expense we have is staff," she said.
"Even with an extension to the wage subsidy, we will be haemorrhaging. We will go backwards by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Mitchell said the role of travel agents had changed dramatically because of the pandemic.
In February, they worked round the clock to rescue travellers from overseas and when New Zealand's borders closed in mid-March there was literally nothing to sell.
There are very few domestic bookings because people simply don't use travel agents to book local trips, she said.
"We've got nothing to sell, we have zero income and are processing around $2 billion of client funds paid out for overseas travel.
"In very real terms, travel agents are still in lockdown. We've got no access to our work because our work is on other side of the borders."
Mitchell is on an industry taskforce lobbying the Government for support and recognition of the issue.
She has attended meetings with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Treasury "all who acknowledge there's a problem and that it's harrowing, but nothing is forthcoming".
Travel agents didn't qualify for the $400 million tourism recovery fund announced in the May Budget because it was intended "for those bringing tourism into the area and we send people away".
Mitchell wants clarity from the Government around the future of the industry and financial support to get through the refund process "at a bare roots level wage subsidies extended 'til March 2021".
"We want to know whether our industry is expected to survive or shrink or be there at all," she said.
"We've been working with no income for five months now and we've got another six to eight months work to get clients funds back.
"No business can last forever with no income and still pay their employees, so we're really stuck ... we are desperate for some help to get through."
Mitchell is one of more than 16,000 people who have signed a petition calling for extra Government help for the sector.
The petition, organised by travel consultant Shane Lust, was presented to Parliament on July 30.
"Travel agents have to manage many complicated refunds and credits but, in many cases, have zero income due to no new revenue," Lust's petition says.
"There's still months worth of refunds we're waiting on and hundreds of credits per agent to manage.
"The travel industry is uniquely affected, whilst other industries are now able to rebuild."
House of Travel Kerikeri owner operator Nikki Platt also signed the petition.
The Kerikeri office is located on the main street for about 30 years. There was one redundancy because of Covid and the remaining five staff, including Platt, are on reduced hours and pay.
"Our core business was international travel; we lost 100 per cent of our business," she said.
"Until the borders open, we've got nothing to sell.
"We're doing the odd domestic booking, but it's a drop in the ocean."
Platt said her staff and the industry were working hard to help New Zealanders, and the Government needed to acknowledge their plight.
"The reality is things are shifting and they will shift for a long time, but we really need an extension of wage support to keep us going while we reorganise our business and transition to the future.
"That wage subsidy is critical, we're really at a tipping point as to whether we can survive."
The Flight Centre has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, and 480 staff have been made redundant over the past several months.
In late March, 250 staff were laid off, followed by another 230 redundancies on July 29.
The company couldn't say how many staff were affected from Northland's Kerikeri and Whangārei branches.
Flight Centre NZ managing director David Coombes said the latest job losses were a result of the ending wage subsidies combined with a lack of clarity on when border restrictions would be lifted.
Travel agents had been overlooked in the additional Government support packages announced to date, Coombes said.
"Our people are still working tirelessly to assist Kiwis with cancelled travel plans and repatriation.
"Each day there are new cases of Kiwis stuck abroad where the experience of our travel experts is vital in getting them home safely."
Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis and Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi have asked officials to engage with the outbound tourism operator sector on the issue.
"We need to better understand the challenges travel agents are facing with regards to refunding customers before making decisions around Government support," a spokesman for Davis said.