TORONTO — The Liberal government is turning off the tap of COVID aid, and with it any hope of extended financial support for the travel industry.
With the release of Budget 2022 yesterday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in her opening remarks that “the time for extended COVID support is over.”
The pandemic dealt Canada “a shattering economic blow,” said Freeland. “We provided unprecedented support for Canadian families and businesses. It was an audacious plan and it worked.”
She noted that the Canadian economy has recovered 112% of the jobs lost in the “early awful months” of the pandemic. The unemployment rate currently sits at 5.5%.
Now, says Freeland, “the pandemic debt we incurred to keep Canadians safe and solvent must be paid down. And it will be paid down.”
Canada has “a strong history of financial responsibility,” she added.
“FROM SURVIVAL TO RECOVERY”: ACTA
It’s hard to argue with paying down the massive pandemic debt, but sectors like travel were hit disproportionately hard by COVID, and the last of the travel restrictions just lifted weeks ago (and in the case of the pre-arrival testing requirement, just days ago).
Not only that, but with commissions typically not paid until clients depart, and with many of the pandemic’s support programs inaccessible to independent agents in particular, the retail travel industry is still struggling, despite the flood of bookings coming in.
The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and its rent and wage subsidies, in place since fall 2021, began ramping down in mid-March and is scheduled to end May 7.
There’s also no mention in the budget of any action on the Independent Travel Agent Relief Program (ITARP) proposal.
ACTA’s post-budget virtual Town Hall is scheduled for Mon. April 11.
In the wake of yesterday’s budget announcements, ACTA President Wendy Paradis issued the following statement:
“ACTA is disappointed that the 2022 federal budget failed to address the ongoing need for support for travel agencies and independent travel agents, who are still far from recovery.
“All temporary financial support programs are being phased out, despite the impact of the omicron variant and the delayed revenue model of our sector.
“Through ACTA’s pre-budget submission, political engagements, partnership with the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses, and member grassroots work, there was intense advocacy pressure on the federal government to protect travel agencies and independent travel agents — who are among the most impacted by the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, despite these efforts, the federal government has not budgeted for an extension to the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program wage and rent subsidies, or for independent travel agent financial support.
“Therefore, it is expected that wage and rent subsidies will end as scheduled on May 7, 2022, and no direct financial support for independent travel agents is forthcoming.
“At this stage, ACTA’s focus transitions from survival to recovery and advocacy will begin with all levels of government on lifting remaining barriers to travel, reducing regulatory burdens, tackling the labour crisis, and fostering an environment where travel agencies and independent travel agents can thrive.
“As a key stakeholder, we will work closely with the Ministry of Tourism on the new post-pandemic Federal Tourism Growth Strategy to ensure resiliency and opportunity in Canada’s travel and tourism sectors.
“We will have further analysis of the 2022 federal budget at our upcoming town hall. All are welcome to attend our English webinar on April 11 at 1 p.m. ET (register here) and in French on April 13 at 11 a.m. ET (register here).”
When ACTA submitted its ITARP proposal to the federal government in early January 2022, the proposal had the endorsement of all major ACTA host agency presidents as well as ACITA and Canadian Travel Agents for Change.
Yesterday ACITA voiced its frustration on social media with the budget and the lack of extended financial support.
“To say our Association & the Independent Travel Advisors we advocate for are disappointed at the #FederalBudget 2022 would be an understatement. We are angry. We are angry at 2 years of failed promises.
“We are angry because we have lost hundreds of Independent Travel Advisors over the past 2 years. We’re angry for Carrie who is in her 70’s and cannot retire. We’re angry for Heather who now has to sell her home.
“We’re angry for Liz who now has depleted savings & on the brink of losing her home. Failed promises have failed our sector. @R_Boissonault promised us a life line but instead we’re watching him drive the lifeboat away as we drown.
“We are fighters that refuse to give up. We will come back stronger and fight harder.”