The call to protect the commissions of Canadian travel advisors has made its way into the House of Commons.
This week, Marty Morantz, MP for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, called on Canada’s Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, to develop a plan for the aviation sector that protects Canadian travel advisors as well.
“Without any global travel taking place, independent travel advisors and their families have been left in financial chaos,” MP Morantz told the House on Nov. 17. “I was happy to see that WestJet offer ticket refunds, but these advisors are now concerned that they’ll have to dig into their personal finances to pay commissions they earned nearly a year ago.”
Morantz explained how travel advisors have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic.
“Their incomes have been devastated, and in many cases, reduced to zero,” he said, referencing the roughly 12,000 independent travel advisors working in Canada. “They work on 100 per cent commission with an average delay of 139 to 317 days before seeing a single dollar from any sale.”
David Sweet, MP for Flamborough-Glanbrook and Chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, also took a stand that same day in support of agents.
“Canadian Independent Travel Advisors are doing all they can to fight for their customers with no present income,” Sweet posted on his Twitter account. “They inform me now that @WestJet wants to claw back their original commission. They have done the work many times over because of COVID and now this devastating news!”
"We won’t be able to cover this recall"
The political support comes as travel advisors face a potential wave of commission recalls after Minister Garneau announced that a government bailout of the aviation industry would hinge on airlines issuing refunds to customers.
Several travel agents have already had their commissions clawed back from airlines in recent months. In some cases, the income being recalled is money that agents made as far back as 2019.
The problem is that many advisors have already spent that income on life’s necessities, such as groceries and mortgage payments, or on their business.
“My income paid my mortgage for my office and home, insurance, taxes, and put food on the table for my kids…There’s no money to pay back!” Lori Caravetta, owner and manager of Fernie, BC-based Mountain High Travel and Tours, told PAX last week.
Travel agents have already spent most of 2020 working for free to cancel and rebook trips with vouchers.
The possibility of having to pay back thousands of dollars in hard-earned commissions will likely force many businesses to close up shop, advisors say.
“We’re already at eight months of waiting to start earning income. We won’t be able to cover this recall,” travel advisor Carol Taylor of Oshawa, ON-based Breakaway Travel told PAX previously.
“We are doing everything we can to earn any small amount of commission,” said Taylor. “Very few have actually travelled, so it’s lots of planning and no return. It’s very deflating! I think 100 agencies have closed as they saw this was too difficult to continue....We’re sending back money that we earned honestly.”
ACITA amps up lobbying efforts
The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), a group that formed in June to educate and lobby politicians about the challenges that self-employed travel agents face amid the pandemic, has a played a key role in getting politicians to speak publicly about the issue.
Rallying independent advisors on a private Facebook group, which now has more than 1,500 members, ACITA pushes its members to schedule a one-on-one meeting with their local MP, via Zoom, so they can personally explain why they need help and articulate their demands.
Access to financial aid, commission recalls, rapid testing at airports and easing Canada’s 14-day quarantine order are just some of the topics raised at each 30-minute virtual meeting.
The MPs that agree to meet the group are provided with a pre-written letter addressed to Canada’s policy makers and are encouraged to mail that letter, personally.
"We’ve been really pushing ourselves to meet, and re-meet, with as many MPs and policy advisors as possible over the past two weeks," TTAND advisor and ACITA co-founder Judith Coates told PAX in a recent statement.
Securing commission protections for travel agents is, currently, ACITA’s most urgent demand as airlines meet with government officials this week to discuss a potential bailout plan.
"We believe that an equitable solution would be for the government to have a contingency clause in the agreement that would stipulate that airlines must protect agent commissions in order to receive the bailout money,” said Coates.
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