TICO keeps TRVL out of Ontario – for now

TICO keeps controversial TRVL site out of Ontario ­– for now

TORONTO — TICO has stepped in to quash a website that allows consumers to sign up to become so-called ‘TRVL agents’ and earn up to 10% commissions on hotels booked by themselves, friends and family.

TRVL violates provincial laws, says TICO. Shortly after TRVL launched, TICO sent TRVL founder and Dutch entrepreneur Jochem Wijnands a letter saying his unregistered company had staff consulting on travel, in contravention of the province’s Travel Industry Act.

“Anybody who is selling travel in the province … must be employed by or otherwise aligned with a registered travel agency in the province of Ontario,” said TICO President Richard Smart.

The TRVL site’s home page says ‘Welcome to the secret world of the travel industry’. The site lets travellers bypass travel agents and pocket commissions.

TICO keeps TRVL out of Ontario

After some back-and-forth correspondence, TICO offered a solution: register with the council through a process that requires an annual fee and setting up a branch office in the province, or stop providing access to the service in Ontario.

Smart said the process allows the regulator to protect consumers by making sure they receive accurate information when booking online, such as passport and visa requirements, and ensuring its roughly 2,400 agents all follow the same rules.

Wijnands says he disagrees with TICO’s assessment, arguing the platform’s users aren’t travel agents; the site’s users don’t handle money, he said, but rather use the online advertising platform to make bookings with service providers.

He agreed to pull out of Ontario, saying the growing business can’t afford to be destructive at the moment. He says he believes the company can reposition itself to clarify any confusion. TICO is the only complainant to date, he said.

A message for visitors trying to access the site in Ontario now reads: “Due to restrictions set by the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, TRVL is currently not available in Ontario. We are working to resolve this issue soon.”

Wijnands says this type of thing is “happening everywhere,” pointing to other online platforms like Airbnb and Uber. “The legacy professions hide behind certain rules that they think will give them protection.”

TRVL users can also share a link to their site with followers looking for recommendations. TRVL allows users to pocket most of that commission, except for a cut that the company keeps.

The company could write a letter to TICO and the provincial ministry responsible for it, Smart said. While TICO would reply, there’s a slim chance the regulator would budge from its position.

“If it’s a question of my interpretation of the law, it’s going to be pretty tough to change my mind,” Smart said.


With files from The Canadian Press

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