CALGARY — The federal government needs to understand the potential impact of mass airfare refunds and up to $200 million in commission recalls now, before they put together an airline bailout plan, says travel agent Heidi Hurst.
Because if the powers-that-be try to patch on a solution to protect commissions after a bailout is announced, for many agents, it will too late, she says.
Travelweek caught up with Hurst to get her thoughts on the Dec. 11 Question Period on Parliament Hill, when MP Jag Sahota, who helped usher in Hurst’s Commission Recall Petition earlier this month.
During last Friday’s Question Period, Sahota did a great job of quickly outlining the plight of travel agents to the House of Commons. Noting that Canada’s retail travel agent sector is approximately 80% women, Sahota said, “While the airline industry turns its back on these women, the federal government should not.”
Her message may have fallen on uncomprehending ears, unfortunately. In his comments, MP Chris Bittle, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, said he wanted to give assurances that the federal government “will not spend one penny of taxpayer money” until Canada’s airlines can give their own assurances to Canadians about refunds and more. He didn’t mention one word about travel agents and their plight. It wasn’t clear if Bittle misunderstood Sahota’s message about travel agents, or if he chose not to address it in his comments.
Hurst told Travelweek: “I have been so encouraged by MP Sahota and MP Bergen as well as the many other members who have been taking meeting with agents, and keeping us top of mind in Parliament. They are striving to understand the unique and highly problematic issue we face and their support has been invaluable to us during a very frightening and uncertain time.”
Unfortunately, she adds, “MP Bittle’s response last week shows that the government is still not entirely hearing us. With many of the programs that came out quickly in the spring, there were necessary adjustments after the fact to close loopholes and gaps. For months now, we have been trying to enlighten the government on a gap that we all know exists, before they create an industry aid program.”
Hurst adds: “We NEED to address commission recalls from the outset of any aid program that comes out because too many travel agents will not be able to handle waiting for a correction to the program after the fact.”
Canada’s airlines, and the travel industry, are also waiting to hear more details about the federal government’s proposed financial assistance package, contingent on refunds, which could trigger mass commission recalls. Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced the bailout on Nov. 8 but there have been no further details since that date.
“We are hoping that by continuing to have the conversations now, that the government won’t make this catastrophic error,” says Hurst. “They will not be able to say ‘we didn’t know about this.’ We are simply asking for inclusion as a vital part of the industry that worked for Canadian travellers and travel suppliers before, during, and hopefully after, the pandemic. We are asking for a holistic approach to any industry aid package.”
Hurst, whose Calgary travel agency, HeidiWay Travel, sells everything from destination weddings to cruise to all-inclusive packages, adventure travel, FIT and more, launched her Commission Recall Petition at the beginning of December. It’s open until Dec. 30 and currently has 4,318 signatures. The petition can be seen and signed online here.
Hurst has also launched a Google Form where agents can share their own stories to help MP Bergen and MP Sahota collect information from the agent community to bolster their efforts championing their cause in Ottawa. “We are collecting individual stories to highlight the real, ‘dinner table effect’ of repaying duly earned commissions,” says Hurst. “We have created a Google Form where all agents across Canada can let us know their exact situation without having to go public themselves.”
All Canadian travel agents who wish to take part can click on the link to the form, and share their stories anonymously. The link to the form is here.