On Sept. 27, 2022, the Travel Industry Council of Ontario’s (TICO’s) Board of Directors approved 34 claims against the Ontario Travel Compensation Fund totalling $170,721 to assist 66 consumers who did not receive the travel services for which they had paid.
The approved Ontario Travel Compensation Fund claims are as follows:
Fly Jamaica Airways
1 claim to assist 6 consumers, totalling $5,544
Rejoice Holidays Inc.
3 claims to assist 6 consumers, totalling $5,993
Sunmed Holidays Inc.
1 claim to assist 2 consumers, totalling $1,000
29 claims to assist 52 consumers, totalling $158,184
The Crystal Cruises payout is worth noting.
Claims for 2022-23 are picking up again, especially as TICO and others deal with the fallout of Crystal, which ceased operations in February 2022 following a string of financial and legal problems.
(The luxury brand has since been acquired by A&K Travel Group Ltd).
Determining compensation for consumers who had their cruise cancelled earlier this year has been a complex process.
In addition to TICO's role in the matter, there's a bankruptcy proceeding happening in Florida. And another regulator, the Federal Maritime Commission, has a compensation process of its own. Credit card companies, too, have their own policies.
Speaking to trade media at a press conference last week, TICO's CEO Richard Smart said it’s “a real dog's breakfast trying to understand what the consumer recourse is.”
Comp. Fund under review
TICO has entered a stage of transformation as it begins an end-to-end review of its funding framework, services and Compensation Fund.
As PAX reported last week, Ontario's travel industry regulator has hired consulting agency Optimus SBR to oversee the comprehensive study – the largest third-party review TICO has done in its 25-year history.
The Fund, which is financed by registered travel advisors and wholesalers in Ontario, reimburses customers in situations where, for example, a client has paid for travel services that were not provided, and the payment was made through a TICO-certified business.
It also covers cases where an end supplier or cruise line is insolvent or bankrupt.
The fund’s current balance is roughly $23.5 million and it is generally considered a last resort.
A consumer must first seek reimbursement from their agent or agency, through travel insurance, or their credit card company, before TICO considers a claim.
TICO says that over the course of 25 years, the fund has assisted 24,037 customers, paying out almost $15 million dollars.
That number may jump off the page, but in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t a whole lot. Which TICO recognizes.
“I’m not taking anything away from being able to assist those consumers, but when you compare that to the number of travellers over 25 years, it's a drop in the bucket,” Smart said.
Compensation payouts reached an all-time high during the 2021-22 fiscal year when pandemic-related cancellations and refund requests swelled.
During that period, 376 customers were assisted by the Fund, amounting to $428,812 in total claims paid.
In 2020 and 2021 (which was, understandably, a year of low activity), just seven customers were helped, amounting to $3,388 in total claims paid.
“If we get through this pandemic and there aren’t a lot of claims on the Fund, there's a message there. We have to understand why that is and what that means for the Fund’s future,” Smart said.