TORONTO — Travel agent Heidi Hurst isn’t looking to play the blame game. She’s also not willing to sit back and stay silent as the fate of the Canadian retail travel industry hangs in the balance.
As the federal government works on a bailout plan for Canada’s airlines, a plan that’s contingent on refunds for trips cancelled due to COVID-19, the livelihoods of thousands of Canadian travel agents are at risk in the face of mass commission recalls.
So Hurst started a Commission Recall Petition, open to all Canadians, not just members of the travel industry. It just went live this morning and already it has more than 2,670 signatures.
The petition can be seen and signed online here.
Consumers deserve their refunds, and travel agents deserve their commissions, says Hurst. “It’s not us against anybody,” Hurst told Travelweek this morning.
Hurst is a TPI agent whose Calgary travel agency, Heidiway, sells everything from destination weddings to cruise to all-inclusive packages, adventure travel, FIT and more.
She had a banner year in 2019, with some big groups and destination weddings. If the pandemic had happened in 2019, and if there were commission recalls from airlines and other major suppliers, she would have been on the hook to pay back $40,000. For 2020, her agency, with two other agents, was on track to hit $1 million in sales. The COVID-19 crisis saw her cancel $200,000 worth of travel from her clients.
The concern about mass commission recalls “isn’t only a travel agent issue,” says Hurst. “We want our suppliers to have the support of travel agents.”
She adds that suppliers are looking at things they can do to alleviate the current system, whereby refunds typically come with commission recalls, “so it’s not all or nothing … but we need that government support.”
Deciding to take action, Hurst got in touch with MP Jag Sahota, who represents Calgary Skyview, AB. Hurst wrote the petition herself, outlining the plight of travel agents in 9 succinct points.
Hurst told Travelweek: “Travel agents care about their clients. We’re telling consumers, we were here for you. We believe you deserve refunds.”
If there’s an airline bailout package contingent on refunds with no protection for travel agents and their commissions, “it will bankrupt so many agencies,” says Hurst, adding that the cost in terms of mental health impact will be sky-high as well, as agents lose their livelihoods.
Faced with high stakes for the industry, Hurst says she had no choice but to take action.
“This is one thing I felt like I could do. I just want to say ‘don’t forget about us’. We put in the hours already. We deserve the payment for it. Refunds are important. And we deserve to be paid for our work.”