MISSISSAUGA — ACTA has a brand new name, one that better reflects its members in these changing times.
Wendy Paradis, President of ACTA (Association of Canadian Travel Agencies), kicked off yesterday’s 2023 Eastern Canada Travel Industry Summit at the Toronto Congress Centre with news of the organization’s new moniker, Association of Canadian Travel Agencies & Travel Advisors, saying that it became apparent during the pandemic years that a change was necessary. By adding ‘travel advisors’ to its name, said Paradis, ACTA can now effectively advocate for all of its active members, including independent travel advisors, many of whom were locked out of various government funding programs during the pandemic.
But ACTA didn’t stop there with the name changes. According to Paradis, the organization has officially made the leap from ‘travel agent’ to ‘travel advisor,’ something it’s been debating since 2018.
“Traditionally, ‘travel agent’ has been a very respected term. But moving forward and modernizing, we find more and more that travel advisors are specializing, they’re consulting with their clients, and they’re playing much more than a transactional role than we did 40 years ago, when I was a travel agent at the Toronto Eaton Centre,” said Paradis, adding that the term ‘travel advisor’ will be used in all ACTA correspondence moving forward.
Noting that many of the 500 people in attendance yesterday are already referring themselves as ‘travel advisors,’ Paradis added that “you should call yourself whatever it is that resonates with you,” whether that be a travel curator, travel counsellor, travel specialist or even travel guru.
CALL TO ACTION: LOAN FORGIVENESS
According to Paradis, ACTA’s #1 priority is advocacy and ensuring that the federal government is prioritizing and investing in Canada’s travel and tourism industry.
“We are asking that all facets of government reduce unnecessary administration and financial burden, and that they invest in the workforce development initiatives to help rebuild this industry,” she said.
Part of this would involve loan and debt forgiveness and allowing for delayed payments. According to an ACTA survey conducted this past July, 67% of members say they are not confident about their ability to repay their government loans, while another 36% say they think it’s likely or somewhat likely that they’ll close within the next three years.
“On Dec. 31, 2023, there are a lot of loans coming due…so we have a cash flow issue in travel agency and independent travel agent services,” said Paradis.
To enlist the help of travel advisors in its advocacy efforts, Paradis noted that ACTA has a “push politics letter” ready to go on its website that advisors can sign and send to their Member of Parliament. The letter-writing campaign calls for the Government of Canada to extend the deadline to repay CEBA (Canada Emergency Business Account) loans by two years, from Dec. 31, 2023 to Dec. 31, 2025, and to modify the terms of the RRRF (Regional Relief and Recovery Fund) and Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) to allow more time for repayment.
“The politicians who really are committed to travel and tourism – and there are many – need to be able to go to cabinet and say, ‘I’ve got a thousand letters from travel agencies and travel agents from across Canada,’” said Paradis. “I can’t express how important it is that we get these letters so that these Members of Parliament can actually help us.”
During yesterday’s Summit, news broke late afternoon that the federal government has extended the repayment deadline for a Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan to qualify for partial loan forgiveness of up to 33% from Dec. 31, 2023 to Jan. 18, 2024. As of Jan. 19, 2024, outstanding loans will convert to three-year term loans subject to 5% interest, with the term loan repayment date extended by an additional year from Dec. 31, 2025 to Dec. 31, 2026.
Nearly 900,000 businesses were approved for the loan; as of May 31, 2023, only 21% of those businesses had fully repaid them, reports CBC. For more information click here.
CALL TO ACTION: COMPENSATION FUND
Paradis highlighted another important item that travel industry professionals should put at the top of their agendas: TICO’s annual general meeting (AGM), scheduled for Sept. 26.
Back in September 2022, TICO (The Travel Industry Council of Ontario) launched its biggest-ever review process of the Compensation Fund and its funding model, a key item on this year’s AGM agenda. As it stands now, the Fund, which was designed in the 1970s, is funded by Ontario’s registered travel advisors and travel wholesalers ($0.25 per $1,000 of gross sales). Organizations like ACTA and CATO (Canadian Association of Tour Operators) have long called for changes to the pay model to alleviate the financial burden on advisors and tour operators. Both organizations even took the unprecedented step of withdrawing their appointees from the TICO Board in July 2023, doubling down on their request for a meeting with Ontario Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery Kaleed Rasheed as well as a copy of TICO’s recommendations on future fees and Compensation Fund funding.
“We are asking all travel agencies and travel agency personnel who are registered with TICO to participate in that virtual AGM,” said Paradis. “With the fee review, ACTA and CATO have not been kept in the loop about what the fees are, which we totally disagree with. In our experience, once the report goes from TICO to the Minister, it’s very difficult to change it afterwards. So we’re asking all of you to take an hour of your time and participate in this AGM. We’re all here to really make a different and ensure that moving forward, we have a fair system in Ontario with win-win-win relationships: a win for the consumer, a win for the travel supplier, and a win for travel advisors.”
To register for TICO’s Annual General Meeting, go to https://mecasm.com/webcasts/MTMy/tico-agm.
COMMISSION PAYMENT CHANGES
Another way that ACTA is showing it’s got travel advisors’ backs is by having meetings with travel suppliers about changes to commission payment models.
“If travel suppliers can find a way to process commission at the time of final payments versus departure or after the client returns, as well as pay commission on penalty fees, that would go a long way towards making us healthy,” said Paradis, giving Air Canada Vacations’ Vice President Nino Montagnese a big shoutout for implementing such changes just two weeks after a scheduled meeting with ACTA.
ACTA offers a wide range of educational opportunities for travel advisors, including ‘Ask the Experts’ information sessions and webinars, product training with travel suppliers, advocacy town halls that take place about every two months, online diversity and inclusion training, destination product training, a toolkit that helps agency owners attract and retain team members and, of course, credentialing.
“A lot of small travel agencies are using these tools to attract new travel advisors, and quite a number of independent travel advisors are also bringing on team members to help them better manage their business,” said Paradis.
As a former travel advisor herself, Paradis knows all too well that when an advisor experiences travel for themselves, they can better sell it. With this in mind, ACTA launched two destination experiences for travel advisors earlier this year in partnership with the Dominican Republic and Air Canada. And next month, ACTA will be hosting the sold-out ACTA-Avalon Waterways European River Cruise Summit, which was first announced at last year’s ACTA Summit.
“IF YOU’RE NOT CHARGING SERVICE FEES, SHAME ON YOU”
During a Travel Industry Leader’s Panel, everyone on stage was in agreement: travel advisors need to be charging service fees – full stop.
“If you’re not charging service fees, frankly, shame on you,” said Joe Adamo, President of Transat Distribution Canada and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Transat. “Don’t just charge $15, $20, $25. And tack onto that cancellation fees, too! You deserve it, you’re worth and it’s also a way to help you be selective. If somebody doesn’t want to pay $40, go see someone else.”
Michael Johnson, President of Ensemble, said he couldn’t agree more: “If you’re giving it away for free, what’s it worth? If you’re not charging for your time, how can your prospective clients value your time? Service fees are, as far as I’m concerned, foundational to the value proposition of the travel advisor.”
ACTA AWARD WINNERS
The day culminated with the handing out of six ACTA national awards, including a brand new award that honours lifetime achievement by a CTC/CTM.
The 2023 award winners are:
- ACTA Advocacy Award: Jamie Milton, CTM, Uniglobe Carefree Travel Group, Saskatoon, SK
- Leisure Travel Advisor Award: Camille Jocsak, CTC, Planned 2 Perfection, Mississauga, ON
- Corporate Travel Advisor Award: Konstadina Mitropolous, AMEX Express Global Business, Toronto, ON
- CTC/CTM Lifetime Achievement Award: Annette Frey, Uniglobe Carefree Travel Group, Saskatoon, SK
- ACTA Education Award: Angela Costs, CTC, Mondessa Travel Group, Montreal, QC
- Tomorrow’s Leader Award: McKenzie McMillan, Travel Group, Vancouver, BC
Yesterday’s Summit was one of three planned for the month of September. Up next is the ACTA 2023 Western Canada Travel Industry Summit on Sept. 21, followed by the ACTA 2023 Québec Travel Industry Summit on Sept. 27.