This article was updated on Friday, April 30 at 8:19 a.m. EST
The travel industry is abuzz with reaction following word that Transat AT has secured $700M in funding from the Government of Canada – a deal, announced Thursday morning (April 29), that promises to refund customers and protect travel agent commissions.
“Travel agents have shown unwavering resilience and support since the crisis began,” Annick Guérard, COO of Transat, wrote in a release. “That’s why we’re pleased to confirm that commissions earned by agents will not be recalled if their customers opt for a refund.
Transat said it will borrow additional liquidity through the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), which provides bridge financing (that must be repaid) to large employers whose needs during the pandemic are not being met through private market financing.
A webpage dedicated to Transat's refund process has been set up here and the company says passengers must submit their refund request “as soon as possible” by Aug. 26, 2021.
"We are committed to protecting jobs in Quebec and across Canada and to preserving the long-term viability of Air Transat," wrote Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on his Twitter. "Today's announcement will provide essential financial support to the airline that is in the best interests of Canadians."
In a statement issued to PAX immediately after the announcement, Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), said she was “pleased” that another airline aid package had been secured.
“This is good news for Transat, good news for travel agents and good news for travellers,” Paradis wrote in an email. “We would also like to thank Transat that travel agent commissions are being protected. We are pleased to see that the commitment the federal government announced to travel agents on April 12 regarding commission protection is being honoured in these agreements to fund airlines.”
She said that ACTA will be reviewing all the information in detail with its Travel Agent Commission Protection committee over the coming days “to understand any potential gaps.”
One “area of concern” in the commission recall programs announced to date, she said, is that commission is not being protected on chargebacks along with other gaps “we are currently working through.”
Good news for Western Canada
Flemming Friisdahl, founder of The Travel Agent Next Door, said he was “very happy” to hear that Transat had secured financing.
“I told all our travel agent partners that we should continue to support Transat because they are one solid organization and will weather this storm,” Friisdahl wrote PAX in an email. “I am also super excited to get confirmation that Transat will also be protecting commission – including the commission that had been recalled for Western Canada agents for the cancelled flights, which will now be paid back. Very exciting. Now all we need is to see Transat return to the West for flying!”
Calgary-based travel advisor Tannis Dyrland, owner of Travel With Tannis, an affiliate of The Travel Agent Next Door, was a vocal critic of Transat when the company, in August 2020, said it would be recalling commissions after suspending Western Canada flights to the South and U.S. for winter 2020-2021.
“I am happy that Transat included agents in the announcement and that they recognized our incomes are important and deserved,” Dyrland told PAX Thursday morning.
“The light is getting brighter”
Travel advisor Caitlin Lajeunesse of Vacations by Caitlin – Independent by Flight Centre said it was “very welcome news to wake up to.”
(Headlines announcing the deal began surfacing at roughly 7:30 a.m. EST).
“My clients have been patient and understanding this entire time, but sharing the great news of refund options is a huge relief,” Lajeunesse told PAX. “I am happy to see travel advisors are receiving the recognition they deserve after months and months of tireless work, no income and, in many cases, commission recalls.”
She said her hope is that this marks the beginning of a “strengthened relationship between trusted travel advisors and our suppliers.”
“Many thanks go out to the countless hours put in by the group of travel advisors who are advocating on our behalf,” she said, naming the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), which, since June 2020, has been reaching out to government officials about the unique circumstances advisors face during the pandemic.
“Commission protection was front and centre of our concerns when meeting with MPs across Canada and it is reassuring to know our voice was heard.”
“There is still a long road ahead but the light is getting brighter and brighter with each day that passes.”
"We are not done yet"
Judith Coates, co-founder of ACITA, was also very happy to hear the news.
"This commission protection is the result of ten months of advocacy by ACITA," Coates told PAX. "We are a grassroots, volunteer-driven association, and have been successful in pulling together the independent travel advisor community, inviting them to participate in over 220 meetings that we've had with Ministers, Members of Parliament and Policy Advisors."
"At the forefront of every single meeting, there has been a plea for the government to step up and make all bailout agreements conditional of the protection of travel advisor commissions."
"It's been a lot of hard work, persistence, rallying travel advisors and not taking no for an answer," she said.
That being said, Coates advised the industry to not "sit back and think that our job is winding down."
"We are not done yet," she said. "We will continue to advocate for sector specific funding, access to federal and provincial grant programs, and the re-opening of all Canadian gateways with the implementation of tools like rapid PCR testing and improved contact tracing."
Direct support still needed
President and CEO of TravelOnly Gregory Luciani called the news a “very positive step” for Transat, consumers and for “protecting the integrity of the industry.”
But the deal is still "another airline bailout on the backs of travel agents," Luciani said.
“No one should be forced to work for free and have their business shut down for 14 months and counting,” Luciani told PAX. “It’s time for the government to provide direct support to the retailers.”
Focusing on recovery
Zeina Gedeon, CEO of Travel Professionals International (TPI), also welcomed the news.
“The past 14 months have not been an easy road and we welcome the news of Transat offering refunds and commission protection. It’s a win-win!” Gedeon told PAX.
“Customers are happy, and our TPI advisors have been able to breathe a bit knowing that this refund process will not cause them further financial hardship due to recalled commissions.”
Gedeon said she is “hopeful” that talks with the federal government and other operators will continue.
“The continued work towards recovery remains critical,” she said, “and support of ACTA’s six-point plan for our industry is needed to ensure we have a robust recovery plan.”
“We all need to stay focused on working with all levels of government to ensure the voice of the travel advisor is heard.”
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