Wednesday,  October 27, 2021  11:33 am

“Our boat is sinking”: ACITA calls out ON for excluding travel advisors from $100M tourism recovery fund


“Our boat is sinking”: ACITA calls out ON for excluding travel advisors from $100M tourism recovery fund
Of ACITA: Judith Coates, TTAND (left); Brenda Slater, Beyond the Beach (top, right); Nancy Wilson, TravelOnly (bottom, right). (Supplied)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) is urging Ontario-based travel advisors to contact their local MPP, as well as Ontario’s Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Minister, Lisa MacLeod, to ask why they weren’t included in a program that is supposed to help the tourism industry.

On Sept. 27, the province of Ontario announced a $100 million-dollar investment through a new Tourism Recovery Program (OTRP) to help “stabilize the province’s tourism industry as it recovers from the impacts of COVID-19.”

According to a news release, the money is reserved for for-profit tourism businesses in the attraction, accommodation and leisure travel sectors.

Eligible businesses include inns and lodges, boat tours, ski centres, live performance venues, cinemas, drive-in theatres, amusement and water parks, and others, and all must demonstrate a loss of at least 50 per cent of eligible revenue in 2020-21 compared to 2019.

Ontario’s Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Minister Lisa MacLeod. (www.ola.org)

While beneficial to Ontario’s domestic sector, the program isn’t open to hard-hit travel advisors – travel agents, or agencies, are nowhere to be seen in this list of eligible tourism-related businesses that can apply.

ACITA, which represents more than 1,800 independent travel advisors across Canada, pointed out the omission on Twitter, tweeting their concerns to MPP Lisa MacLeod on Oct. 3.

“While we’re happy for local tourism to get aid we can’t help but wonder why @MacLeodLisa consistently leaves #independenttraveladvisors out,” the association posted.

ACITA co-founder Judith Coates of The Travel Agent Next Door also tweeted her local MPP, Jill Dunlop, that same day to sound the alarm.

“@JillDunlop1 #IndependentTravelAdvisors in your riding need to know why @fordnation & @MacLeodLisa do not see us an integral part of the tourism industry,” Coates tweeted. “Our boat is sinking in this storm & we don’t know how long we can hang on without aid.”

In an email to PAX on Tuesday (Oct. 5), a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries confirmed that travel advisors are, indeed, not eligible for the support.

ACITA co-founder Judith Coates of The Travel Agent Next Door. (Supplied)

“This program is aimed at tourism accommodations, attractions, and transportation businesses that generate and support jobs, attract visitors and tourism dollars, and contribute significantly to the economy in their region,” spokesperson Denelle Balfour wrote.

Balfour noted that Ontario-based travel advisors registered with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) were able to apply for support through the Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Program earlier this year.

“Close to 500 eligible travel agents and wholesalers registered with TICO received funding through this program,” Balfour said.

Not so fast 

But many travel advisors in Ontario were unable to access that provincially-managed support.

Over the summer, ACITA blasted the province's handling of both the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant. 

The Ontario Small Business Support Grant was aimed at supporting small businesses that were ordered to close or subject to “significant” restrictions because of provincial shutdown orders.

Applications opened in mid-January and the grant offered between $10,000 and $20,000.

But for many travel advisors and retail agencies, accessing the much-needed money was as “fiasco,” as ACITA told PAX at the time.

READ MORE: “Appalling” treatment: ON advisors cry foul over small business grant "fiasco"

The program stated that travel agents were excluded from applying, but some did anyways under the category of "Personal Services,” and got through.

The ones who did qualify received the first instalment of a $10k grant. But later, those advisors were told an audit was happening and then, months later, the government informed them to say they were not eligible for the money after all and that a second payment wouldn’t be issued.

(The funds that were issued, however, were not recalled).

The Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant presented similar obstacles.  

Independent travel advisors in Ontario have face roadblocks in applying for tourism-related grants.

In June, both ACITA and the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) spoke out after it was discovered that independent travel agents were ineligible for the grant.

READ MORE: Advocates call on Ontario to amend grant rules for independent agents as deadline looms

The issue, in this case, was that Ontario took the position that only TICO-registered agencies were eligible for the funding, which did not cover individual independent travel agents as they are only registered through their host agencies.

Speaking to PAX on May 14, ACITA’s Brenda Slater of Beyond the Beach was quick to identify the “big stumbling blocks” independent agents faced in accessing the support. 

“There is more to tourism than what’s on this list”

Ontario says its new support program for tourism will help applicants prepare to reopen safely, develop innovative tourism products, retain and create tourism jobs, and support tourism recovery.

But independent travel advisors, who currently rely on the federal Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), which ends on Oct. 23, are still asking why their profession wasn’t included.

“Why are we continually left out of every tourism aid program? As your constituent I ask you to please get @ACITACANADA a meeting with @MacLeodLisa and yourself to address how #independenttraveladvisors continue to fall through the cracks,” tweeted ACITA’s Nancy Wilson, tagging her MPP, Merrilee Fullerton.

Kristin Hoogendoorn, who is part of the ACITA executive team, tweeted MPP Parm Gill to remind him that the CRB is “almost finished” and “there is nothing left to keep me afloat.”

Another ACITA executive member, Mandy Armstrong, tweeted Premier Doug Ford, MPP Steve Clark and MPP MacLeod to say that “there is more to tourism than what’s on this list.”

“Travel advisors have been left out of Ontario’s plans this entire time,” Armstrong wrote. “Our industry needs you to step up for us.”

ACITA urges all Ontario travel advisors to contact their local MPP, as well as Minister MacLeod, to ask why they’re being shut out – again.

“We need every single advisor and owner in Ontario to send an email asking why, and also to add a request that [MPP MacLeod] meets with ACITA directly to better understand why independent advisors need her help,” said Slater.

Travel pros that do not belong to ACITA's private Facebook group for independent agents are welcome to message the association through its website or public Facebook page.

You can also follow ACITA’s progress on Twitter here.


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