The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) is working on an “urgent project” that requires industry input following last week’s passing of Bill C-2, a piece of new legislation that includes travel and tourism supports but, due to a policy gap, excludes independent travel advisors.
“We knew that we weren’t going to be included in C-2 unless there were amendments,” ACITA co-founder Brenda Slater of Beyond the Beach wrote PAX in an email on Monday (Dec. 20). “So we were understandably unhappy that we would fall through the cracks AGAIN.”
On Dec. 16, the same day the Senate approved Bill C-2, which provides wage and rent supports to hard-hit businesses, the ACITA management team had a successful virtual meeting with Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance.
“While we are terribly discouraged that we were left out of Bill C-2, we did have the opportunity to help Randy better understand how we are compensated and why the roadblocks have been blocking our way to receive supports,” said TravelOnly’s Nancy Wilson, another ACITA co-founder.
“ACITA’s biggest meeting to date"
The meeting went very well: Minister Boissonnault insisted the ACITA team call him “Randy,” extended the allotted 30-minute meeting to 90 minutes (“At his urging,” Wilson said), told the group that he understands the urgency of sector-specific aid and named ACITA as his “informal advisory committee” for the sector.
In this summary video, travel advisor Kristin Hoogendoorn called the meeting “ACITA’s biggest meeting to date.”
“He gained a lot of knowledge he was not previously educated on, in terms of how our industry works, with specific regard to the compensation model of independent travel advisors, as well as safety protocols in destinations and on cruises,” Wilson told PAX.
“We are going to be working closely with him to find a solution. As he stated, we have fell into a policy gap, and we need to find a way out of it.”
Slater echoed that sentiment, confirming that Canada’s Minister of Tourism “now has a complete understanding of our business models as independent advisors.”
“His second role as Associate Minister of Finance will ensure that the Finance Ministry will ALSO now have the same understanding,” Slater wrote.
Urgent survey launched
The outcome of that meeting has resulted in an urgent survey, led by ACITA, that aims to gather as much data as possible from roughly 12,000 independent travel advisors in Canada with regards to lost revenues.
Responses will be kept anonymous, ACITA says, and participates are being asked to answer all five questions.
Once completed, ACITA is asking participants to copy the survey link, post it to host agency groups on Facebook and forward it along to any independent travel advisors who may not belong to online groups.
“It's imperative that we get as many responses as possible over the next few days!” the survey reads. “It's our hope that the data collected will help the decision makers see how devastated our sector of the travel industry is and speed up the process of providing aid to independent travel advisors.”
The information collected will help the federal government “further understand why we need help, and how they can do that in the immediate future,” Slater added.
A 'sector within a sector'
Bill C-2 introduces the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, which provides up to 75 per cent wage and rent support to businesses with revenue losses of over 40 per cent.
The legislation also aims to provide targeted aid to businesses that are ordered closed and to workers sent home, as part of a local lockdown.
On Dec. 16, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland didn’t say exactly when the new benefits would kick in. However: she said the government will use existing systems for applications and payments in order to quickly dole out the aid.
Last week, Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), called the bill the “only lifeline open to travel agencies right now.”
But the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program does not benefit most independent travel agents, unless they were registered for payroll as of March 15, 2020, ACTA has pointed out.
Bill C-2 "only benefits storefront agencies," Wilson told PAX previously.
ACITA’s current advocacy work, Wilson said, is focused on asking the government to “provide us with a vehicle to deliver aid to our 'sector within a sector,' or sub sector.”
ACTA, last Friday, acknowledged that most independent travel agents will not benefit from the new legislation and urged the government to take action.
“We understand from our meetings with government that delivering sector specific financial support to independent workers is challenging. However, the government must work with industry to find a way to navigate through these challenges,” Paradis said.
“ACTA will continue to advocate for a new program that supports travel agency furloughed employees, sole proprietors and independent contractors.”