The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) met with senior staff from Transport Minister Omar Alghabra's office on Tuesday (May 24) to provide an update on the travel industry, which the grassroots group says “has been overlooked” by Ottawa over the two years – namely, independent travel advisors (ITAs).
“We are seeing an increase in bookings for our clients, but due to the nature of our revenue model, travel advisors do not receive any revenue until after our clients depart,” ACITA stated in a press release on Friday (May 27).
“So, although many people are booking getaways, cruises and bucket list trips for late 2022 and 2023, we will not be in a position of recovery until that travel takes place.”
With all government assistance having been removed, this puts ITAs in a “precarious situation,” the group said.
As a result, many travel advisors have left the industry, while others are “hanging on by a thread” as they've had to re-finance home, go into heavy debt, and draw from their retirement savings, ACITA explained.
Many ITAs are also reporting that they are still struggling with mental health issues, the group noted.
Requests to improve travel
Travel advisors receive a wealth of feedback from clients and colleagues who have navigated the crowds at various Canadian gateways, so during their meeting, ACITA called on the Transport Minister to:
1. Improve signage at entranceways and hallways leading to CATSA areas in all Canadian airports so travellers are better informed of which items need to be removed from carry-on luggage and from their person.
2. Invest in new technology for screening in security areas. This follows the lead of airports in the EU, such as Shannon Airport, which informs passengers on their website that they can now bring whatever liquids they require – as long as they are stored within cabin baggage without restriction on bottle size.
“This allows passengers to pass through security in a much quicker time,” ACITA noted.
Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has also been utilizing this CT technology at all major checkpoints since 2020.
3. Extend an invitation to ACITA to occupy a seat at the table of the Transport Ministry's Air Advisory Committee.
As stakeholders in the industry (24,000 travel advisors in Canada, and 85 per cent female), “We play a major role in communicating ever-changing requirements and protocols with passengers prior to departure,” ACITA said.
“The Transport Ministry must recognize the value that travel advisors bring to the table, as we are the eyes and ears on the ground, and have a direct line to consumers.”
4. Keep the public informed by way of video announcements on social media to let consumers know that steps are being taken to alleviate backlogs, not just in CATSA areas, but also in customs halls for arriving passengers.
“Media accounts of planeloads of passengers waiting on the tarmac for hours before they can disembark are common, and instill fear and uncertainty in travellers,” ACITA said. “In these announcements, the Minister should be stressing the importance of booking with a professional travel advisor.”
5) Provide better training for new CATSA agents. “We have received messages from passengers who had to remove liquids from their one-litre ziplock bag and transfer them to a CATSA one-litre ziplock bag,” ACITA said.
MP Michelle Rempel relayed a similar experience on May 14 via Facebook video – and “sadly, her experience is not uncommon and is a result of poor training of new CATSA employees,” ACITA said.
“The CATSA website clearly states that liquids are to be packed in any one-litre closed and resealable plastic bag. There is no mention of it having to be an ‘official’ bag.”
“The policy advisor we met with was very approachable,” The Travel Agent Next Door’s (TTAND) Judith Coates, an ACITA co-founder, told PAX.
The advocacy group was told by Transport Canada that their requests would be included in a report to Minister Alghabra.
“We look forward to continuing to meet with high-level Transport and Tourism Ministry staff so we can keep them better informed of the realities of air travel in our current landscape,” ACITA said.