Since Nov. 30, a petition posted on the website of the House of Commons has been collecting signatures to protect travel agents against commission recalls.
Launched by Calgary-based travel consultant Heidi Hurst of Heidiway Travel, an affiliate of Travel Professionals International (TPI), the petition is sponsored by Alberta Conservative MP Jag Sahota.
Last Friday, PAX reported that Ms. Sahota of Calgary Skyview intervened during a question period in the House of Commons to defend travel agents.
The new petition, as of Wednesday morning (Dec. 2), has collected 2,700 signatures (and counting).
A call for support
The preamble to the petition is as follows.
- Travel agents have worked tirelessly through the pandemic to protect and care for Canadian travellers at home and abroad;
- Travel Suppliers (Airlines, Cruise and Tour operators) are clawing back the duly earned agent commissions (wages) from this work, to offset impact of consumer refunds;
- This means agents are expected to pay suppliers the equivalent of the majority of their income earned this year;
- This money will come from the other government COVID-19 programs (i.e. CERB and CRB) since most travel agents haven’t generated any income in the past 9 months;
- This could also cause many to claim personal bankruptcy;
- Government bailouts for the airline and travel industries as currently proposed will have a crushing financial impact on travel agents and agencies, a workforce that is largely female (over 80%) and commission based;
- Travel suppliers are not recalling the wages of their in-house staffing when a file is refunded;
- Travel agents support consumer refunds, and will continue to manage these files for suppliers; and
- Additional support, retroactive to the pandemic declaration or non-essential travel advisory issued on March 13, 2020, for those agents already required to pay back tens of thousands of dollars, should be made available to prevent hard-working Canadians from having to declare bankruptcy to prop up large corporations.
The petition itself states this:
"We, the undersigned, residents of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to consider travel agents as external staffing for travel suppliers and include this caveat on any supplier bailout terms, provided that previously paid travel agent commissions not be subject to clawbacks, but rather be considered a sunk business (staffing) cost."
Putting a face to the profession
Speaking with PAX over the telephone Wednesday morning, Hurst said she launched the petition to "take up space" and remind the public that travel agents are human beings that care about their clients but, under the current system, cannot continue working for free.
"This isn't a complaint," Hurst told PAX. "It's about putting a live face to travel agents...We are your friend, a family member that’s helping you travel. We’re that corporate agent sitting in that office, making sure your retreat goes well. We are that email that gets you that e-ticket."
When the global pandemic hit in March, travel agents answered the call to process cancellations, repatriate clients, rebook travel and manage travel credits, Hurst explained.
Now, as federal aid for the aviation sector hinges on airlines refunding customers, travel professionals face a wave of commission recalls, which could lead to several bankruptcies and destroy livelihoods.
With this in mind, "We're asking for just a bit of humanity," said Hurst, who said MP Sahota's "mouth was agape," with shock, when she learned about the unfair working conditions that travel agents have been subjected to amid the pandemic.
"Yes, we want refunds," said Hurst, "but we need to come up with a way that isn't putting Canadian travel agents at a disadvantage."
Hurst points to the positivity that has come out of pandemic within the travel agent community.
She had, for instance, Kayla Gavin, an independent TPI agent, and Stacey Lazarenko, an independent agent at Escapes.ca, help her launch the petition.
"We have all come together," said Hurst, noting how the petition has also given a voice to agents who, for example, are uncomfortable with speaking out. "It has been a truly collaborative atmosphere."
"Travel is something I’m sure every Canadian does in a different fashion. We want to make sure we something to come back to."
Want to lend your support? Click here to read and sign the petition!
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