Thursday,  September 19, 2019  6:56 pm

ACTA & CATO: Travel Industry Act changes needed now

ACTA & CATO: Travel Industry Act changes needed now
(From left) Wendy Paradis, president, Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA); Michele Sanborn, assistant deputy minister – policy, planning & oversight division, Ontario Ministry of Government & Consumer Services; Richard Smart, president & CEO, Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).
Blake Wolfe

Blake Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and editor, who joined PAX after nearly 10 years in Canada’s newspaper industry. In addition to PAX, his work has been featured in publications such as the Metroland Media group of newspapers and the Toronto Sun.

While talks continue between the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) and the provincial government over reforms to the Travel Industry Act, changes that would reduce the financial burden on Ontario’s travel businesses can’t come soon enough for the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) and the Canadian Association of Tour Operators (CATO).

During TICO’s 2019 AGM held June 25, CATO Executive Director Pierre LePage and ACTA President Wendy Paradis took the opportunity to address both TICO and government officials present at the meeting with concerns over the lack of movement on reforms to the Act, specifically those that would reduce the financial burden on travel businesses, such as reforms to the funding of TICO’s Compensation Fund (including through the potential introduction of consumer contributions to the Fund) and lessening the burden on travel agents and travel wholesalers by creating a registration class of travel seller, so that businesses would no longer need to register as both a travel agent and travel wholesaler.

The passing of the omnibus Bill 166 (the Strengthening Protection for Ontario Consumers Act, which also includes provisions on event ticket sales and real estate) on Dec. 13, 2017 set the stage for the development of changes to the Act’s supporting Regulation, required before any changes to the Travel Industry Act take effect.

READ MORE: "A lot of work to be done in 2018," says TICO's Richard Smart

TICO President & CEO Richard Smart told PAX that this process is ongoing, with further consultations taking place with the Ontario government later this year. Those meetings will happen sometime after Queen’s Park returns to session on Oct. 28 and will take place with a new Minister of Government & Consumer Services in charge of the portfolio, after Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker was removed from the position in last week’s cabinet shuffle and replaced with former Education Minister Lisa Thompson.

Lauren Adams of PLAN Canada is presented with a donation of $5,000 raised by TICO over the last year

For Paradis and LePage, however, the time for change is long overdue.

“I can’t stress to the government representatives here tonight the amount of time, money and resources that we have spent to get the attention of the Ontario government,” Paradis said. “We, on behalf of Ontario travel agencies, along with CATO, have had no less than 20 meetings in the last six months with government officials, trying to express the sheer frustrations of business in Ontario and the burden that we have financially with the Travel Industry Act and the administrative burden of trying to run a travel agency, whether it’s a small or large business, due to the amount of legislation and regulations.

“Here we are, three years later and we are now on our third minister in this ministry,” she continued. “We are frustrated that we can’t get any movement. We go to consultation after consultation and what we feel, from a travel agency perspective, is that we’re getting more regulation and more burden. We ask you that are here today to please take note of this. The government may be on break for the next few months, but we are not – our next meeting is in the next two weeks and we will not stop our lobbying for fairness for Ontario businesses.”

Added LePage:

“The fact is that all TICO registrants must, by mandate, contribute to the Compensation Fund; the reality is that the situation has evolved. The Fund began when consumers would only go to their travel agent, who was the only source of travel information. Now travel information is available over the internet, as is the ability to book a trip. All Ontario registrants are burdened with the financial responsibility of having to fund the Compensation Fund, which effectively puts them at a disadvantage to their online competitors, the majority of which contribute nothing to any sort of fund.”

Jean Hebert, TICO’s chair of the board of directors, responded to the concerns of ACTA and CATO, stating, “We understand your concerns and the issue. We have had the opportunity to raise these concerns with the former minister on several occasions and will continue to do so with the new minister. You’ve raised the concept of consumer contributions to the Fund and it’s fair to discuss that. I stick to what the (former) Minister said in April – let’s fix the regulatory development at this point in time and then let’s address the issue of the Compensation Fund.

“We’ll consider all of the options, including the consumer contribution concept," Hebert continued. "From my point of view, it’s part of the solution, but we’ll see the outcome over the next few months…. There’s always room for improvements.”

TICO’s highlights of 2018

Looking back on a “busy and challenging year” during the meeting, Smart addressed a number of highlights over the previous fiscal year.

These include:

  • $1.9 million in surplus, 80 per cent of which was directed to the Compensation Fund, marking “one of the strongest fiscal years ever” for TICO, Smart said;
  • The raising of more than $5,000 for PLAN Canada – which made more than $30,000 worth of impact when corporate matching was factored in – to support a number of initiatives including the provision of clean water, medicine and education for children in developing countries around the world;
  • $23.5 million in the Compensation Fund as recorded by the end of March 2019;
  • The reduction of TICO's board from 15 to 11 members to achieve 'greater efficiency and effectiveness;'
  • While overall consumer claims over the last fiscal year were low, Smart acknowledged the expenditure of approximately $328,000 in compensating customers who booked with Sinorama, when the tour operator voluntarily terminated its TICO licence and ceased operations shortly after Quebec’s Office of Consumer Protection denied the company a renewed permit to do business in that province.

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