Friday,  October 23, 2020  4:25 am

New tourism coalition is urging CEWS extension, but will that help self-employed agents?


New tourism coalition is urging CEWS extension, but will that help self-employed agents?
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.

A new coalition aimed at protecting tourism jobs in Canada is fighting for an extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program for businesses facing revenue decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses (CHHB), announced on Thursday (Sept 17th), is calling on the federal government to extend the CEWS program at the full 75 per cent rate for businesses facing an ongoing revenue decline of 50 per cent or higher, and to extend the program until Spring/Summer 2021.

“In the COVID-19 pandemic, our businesses were the first shut down, and we will be the last to recover – in short, we are the hardest hit businesses,” Charlotte Bell, President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said in a virtual press conference on Thursday. “Our sectors will bounce back when COVID is behind us, but this fall we face bankruptcy and unemployment for over 2 million Canadians working in our sectors.”

The Canadian government has previously stated that the CEWS program would wind down in the autumn months.  

Starting September 26, the amount of wage subsidy funding for all businesses – including the hardest hit businesses experiencing revenue declines of over 50 per cent – will decrease until the subsidy is eliminated entirely in December.

Travel advisors ignored?

While the coalition is highlighting important issues that the travel industry is facing, it’s objective does not serve the needs of some travel advisors, says the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, a group dedicated to independent and home-based travel agents.

“We are very happy to hear that the CHHB has gotten together to bring the issues our industry is facing to the forefront. Without question, we are all struggling to remain afloat and desperately need the Canadian Government to step up with further aid for our sector. The travel and tourism Industry is indeed going to be the last to recover, and the current available programs are not doing enough to support those who need the most long-term help,” the group, led by Judith Coates of The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND), Brenda Slater of Beyond the Beach and Nancy Wilson of TravelOnly, told PAX in a joint statement.

However: “Unfortunately, the CEWS program does not apply to Canadian independent travel advisors as we work on 100 per cent commission,” the group explained. “We are continuing to meet with MPs across the country during the proroguing and have several meetings before the Throne speech next week. We are asking for MP support to extend the CERB or ensure EI parallel program does not allow any of us to fall through the cracks. “

The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, which was formed in June, rallies its 1,200-plus membership on a private Facebook group and provides them with pre-written letters, which agents then mail to their local MP.

These letters request the continuation of CERB funding and paint a clear picture of the realities that agents are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brenda Slater, Beyond the Beach (left); Nancy Wilson, TravelOnly (top, right); Judith Coates, TTAND (bottom, right).

The group requests either a personal call, or a group video chat – via Zoom – with MPs so the group, and agents in the riding, can personally explain why they need help.

The MPs that agree to a meeting are then provided with a separate pre-written letter addressed to Canada's Finance Minister and others at the top. 

The MPs are then encouraged to mail that letter, personally, to the decision makers.

So why CEWS?

The new CHHB coalition is an industry-driven group of over 40 stakeholders representing a variety of sectors including tourism, arts and culture, events and festivals, and hospitality.

The group includes TIAC, Canadian Hotel Association, Indigenous Tourism Association Canada, Festivals & Major Events Canada and the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA).

When asked why the coalition chose to fight for an extension of CEWS, instead of the CERB, Susie Grynol, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada, said that CEWS “allows us to keep our employees.”

“When you go on CERB, you sever the employer/employee relationship,” Grynol said on Thursday. ““The whole purpose of the wage subsidy program was to keep the employee/employer relationship intact. That means you have your employees working for you [and] you can maintain that relationship. Many of them can still get their health benefits and all that comes with employment, [such as] vacation pay.”

Grynol also noted that “if we have a mass exodus of all of our employees, then we have to re-train all these people.”

To be clear, Grynol wasn’t speaking on the experience of travel agencies or travel advisors specifically.

PAX has since reached out to the CHHB for clarification on how it intends to represent Canada’s travel trade and if it has future plans to include the CERB in its lobbying efforts.

It is unclear what influence ACTA has in the new coalition. However, in a statement issued to PAX, Wendy Paradis, president of ACTA, reiterated the association’s commitment to helping travel agents during the coronavirus crisis.

“It is safe to say that ACTA has been active 24/7 since March advocating for travel agencies, travel agents and independent contractors with regard to federal and provincial aid programs,” Paradis told PAX. “We will not let up, we need governments to see that our industry is severely impacted by the pandemic and by all of the restrictions on travel-- and needs ongoing support well into 2021.”

Paradis noted ACTA’s many lobbying initiatives, including its role in the Travel and Tourism Round Table, which has been advocating for the opening of borders, the easing of travel advisories and the 14-day quarantine requirements.

Wendy Paradis, president of ACTA. (File photo)

She also noted that ACTA was successful after extensive lobbying on behalf of independent travel agents in regard to their eligibility for the new EI as the CERB winds down.

TPI travel advisor Lois Barbour called the extension of any financial programs “critical” to saving jobs and businesses.

“The current situation in the travel industry was unimaginable just six to nine months ago, when we were trending for the best year ever in business. The government help has been much appreciated, but unless things turn around quickly, the next six to nine months after the current offers expire will be even harder than what 2020 has been,” Barbour told PAX.

“Current travel restrictions and advisories means there is no chance of recovery of the travel industry in the short term, and therefore, the extension of these programs is critical to save jobs and businesses.”

To learn more about the CHHB coalition, visit www.HardestHit.ca.


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