This article was updated on Friday, October 22 at 10:42 a.m. EST
Canadian travel agencies will be able to access a new wage and rent subsidy for hard-hit tourism businesses, but it’s unclear if whether independent travel advisors will qualify for the much-needed support.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled the new Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program on Oct. 21.
The “very targeted” aid, she said, will help eligible hotels, restaurants, bars, festivals, travel agencies, tour operators, convention centres, trade show organizers and others. (Click here for a detailed backgrounder).
This program, which will run from Oct. 24 to May 7, 2022, will replace the current wage and rent subsidies, expiring this Saturday, Oct. 23.
While the benefit will help some travel agencies push through the COVID-19 pandemic, Beyond the Beach’s Brenda Slater, a co-founder of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) isn’t yet convinced that it will help ACITA's members.
“We watched the press conference with a great deal of interest,” Slater told PAX. “It is very interesting that they mentioned wage and rent subsidy support is going to be extended for travel agencies, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though independent advisors are being considered in the plan at all.”
Freeland also announced that the Canada Recovery Benefit will end this Saturday and will be replaced by the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit on Oct. 24.
This program, the details of which will be unveiled in the coming weeks, provides $300 a week in income support to eligible workers who are unable to work due to government-imposed public health lockdowns, until May 7, 2022.
The CRB, for many independent travel advisors during the pandemic, has been a lifeline – in several cases, it was the only government benefit they could access.
“It is unclear if independent travel agents qualify for the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit,” the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) said in a statement on Thursday, saying that it “seeking clarification” on the issue.
One possible problem
ACTA, on Thursday, said it was going to urge the government to consider travel advisories and border restrictions as a “qualifying lockdown” for travel agent entrepreneurs.
Then, hours after ACTA's statement, the federal government lifted its global "non-essential" travel advisory for fully-vaccinated Canadians, returning to country-specific risk assessments.
It's possible, now, that some travel advisors won't qualify for lockdown support if the non-essential travel advisory has been lifted.
Hard-hit organizations that do not qualify for the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program would qualify for rent and wage support Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program, the government says on it's website.
But it is unclear if independent travel advisors would qualify for this stream of support if they are shut out of the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program.
Slater says 12,000 independent advisors in Canada “are being left out of the equation again.”
“We firmly believe that the people who hold the controls to these programs simply don’t understand there is a difference between incoming and outgoing tourism,” Slater said. “In order for both to survive, we need each other.”
What ACITA is asking
ACITA, a grassroots organization that has been advocating on behalf of independent travel advisors during the COVID-19 pandemic, has several meetings booked with politicians to address this topic and others.
“We continue to ask for sector-specific aid in the form of bridge/gap assistance until we are able to generate income,” Slater said.
The group is also asking for the lowering of testing requirements for vaccinated travellers returning to Canada.
The ask, Slater said, is to move away from a $200+USD per person PCR test in destination back to an on-arrival antigen test at Canadian airports.
“This would not only alleviate counterfeit testing and price gouging, but also keep the jobs in Canada with the ability to ensure our standards of testing,” Slater said.
ACTA is on it
ACTA President Wendy Paradis said the new Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program will still support “the survival of thousands of Canadian travel agencies, who are among the hardest-hit businesses in the pandemic.”
“We are pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister directly referenced travel agencies in her announcement,” Paradis said.
ACTA is now working to understand how independent travel agents fit into the picture, she said.
“The Deputy Prime Minister said employers and businesses are included, so we are strongly urging the federal government to include these small businesses,” Paradis said.
The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program will provide up to 75 per cent wage and rent subsidies to travel agencies with a revenue loss of over 40 per cent between Oct. 24, 2021, and March 12, 2022.
For businesses with a current-month revenue decline of 40-74 per cent, the benefit will match their revenue decline.
For example: if the current-month revenue decline is 60 per cent, the subsidy rate will be 60 per cent.
The benefit is capped at 75 per cent, so travel agencies with a current-month revenue decline of > 75 per cent will receive a 75 per cent subsidy.
From March 13 to May 7, 2022, the total subsidy will be reduced by half, following the same eligibility criteria.
“The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program provides strong support to eligible businesses, and in addition to modernizing travel advisories and border restrictions, is a critical part of our sector’s recovery,” Paradis said.
Eligible businesses must have an average monthly revenue reduction of at least 40 per cent over the first 13 qualifying periods for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, in addition to a current-month revenue loss of at least 40 per cent.
Ottawa also proposes increasing the aggregate monthly cap for rent subsidies from $300,000 to $1 million, starting Oct. 24, 2021.
The new cap would be available to employers who meet the eligibility requirements for the rent subsidy under the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program.
“It is also unclear at this time if independent travel agents qualify under this program,” ACTA said.