A petition the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) launched at the tail end of 2020 was read into record in the House of Commons last week, checking off a significant box in the group’s fight for commission protections.
Addressing parliament on Feb. 4, MP Marc Dalton of the riding Pitt Meadows – Maple Ridge, BC, presented the petition, which, between Dec. 30 and Jan. 29, generated 5,322 signatures.
The petition calls on the Minister of Transport to ensure that a bailout package for Canada’s aviation sector is conditional upon the protection of travel advisor commissions.
If airlines refund consumers for cancelled travel during the pandemic, without protections in place, up to $200 million dollars in income will be clawed back, the petition explains.
In his remarks, MP Dalton, who sponsored the petition, highlighted the tough situation that travel advisors are currently facing.
“For the past year, life has not been easy for them,” he said. “No revenue, as no one is travelling.”
“Yet they continue to spend countless hours on behalf of their clients, dealing with postponements, rebookings and cancellations.”
MP Dalton pointed out that an airline bailout package will force travel agents to “pay back clawbacks with money they don’t have.”
“The petition calls on the government to ensure that travel advisors’ hard-earned commission for services they’ve already provided will be protected from such clawbacks,” MP Dalton said.
ACITA says the next step is to receive a response from Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra.
Minister Alghabra has yet to elaborate on a plan for helping travel agents as Ottawa develops a financial aid package for the country's ailing airline industry.
However, on Jan. 29, at a media briefing just after the unveiling of Canada’s new travel restrictions, the Minister did say that travel agents’ compensation was on his radar.
"Huge shift" in interest
ACITA, a grassroots group that formed in June 2020 to educate politicians about the challenges that home-based and self-employed travel agents are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was pleased to see their petition appear in parliament.
“We are really pleased with the support that we received on this project, not just from the travel industry, but also from our clients,” wrote ACITA’s Judith Coates of The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) in an email to supporters.
Coates launched the petition in collaboration with her ACITA teammates Brenda Slater of Beyond the Beach and Nancy Wilson of TravelOnly.
ACITA rallies members on a private Facebook page, encouraging agents to schedule a one-on-one Zoom meeting with their local MP so they can personally explain why they need help.
Access to financial aid, commission recalls, rapid testing at airports and easing the 14-day quarantine order are just some of the topics raised at each 30-minute meeting.
(Click here for a detailed account of one meeting that PAX attended).
Since the summer, the group has successfully met with 150 politicians and policy officials on Zoom’s digital platform, giving travel advisors a loud and sounding voice in Ottawa.
Leading up to MP Dalton's presentation last Thursday, several other MPs have defended travel agents in the House, highlighting first-hand stories they've heard from agents at ACITA’s meetings, while calling on the Liberals for support.
Ottawa’s interest in travel agents and the barriers they face amid the pandemic is growing, Judith Coates told PAX last week.
"We've noticed a huge shift in interest recently," Coates said on Feb. 4. "Last week, we had a team from our association send out personal emails to each MP in Canada. Instead of being ignored or receiving a form response, we immediately started getting replies asking for a meeting."
"So our calendar is now full for the next few weeks!"
ACITA invites all travel advisors (independent or not) to join its Zoom meetings.
“We find that the ones who do participate end up feeling a sense of purpose and direction and have the most positive attitudes towards the future of the travel Industry," Coates said.
You can also follow ACITA’s progress on Twitter here.
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