27 JUN 2019: Rarely has the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) held an annual general meeting without complaint about the nature and/or amount of registrant fees. Predictably at this year’s 21st annual event, held in Mississauga on June 25, the issue reared its head again, though perhaps with a sense of simmering fury not seen since the days when the late president of the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) Bruce Bishins steadfastly championed the cause.  

In this case, the Canadian Association of Tour Operators (CATO) and Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) tag-teamed during the Q&A portion of the proceedings to complain about the “onerous” burden on both wholesalers and retailers, whose fees in part fund TICO and fully the Ontario Compensation Fund, which is managed by the self-regulated but provincially mandated body.

And both reiterated a call for consumer fees to be introduced to help defray costs to the industry.

But while the refrain may remain the same, this year’s comments took on heightened emotion due to the presence of Ontario government official Michele Sanborn, assistant deputy minister, policy, planning and oversight division, who boldly stated that the government’s mission is to strengthen consumer protection, but at the same time reduce burdens on business.

ACTA president Wendy Paradis complained that the association is “on its third minister” waiting for resolution to the issue, as well as a review of the Travel Industry Act (TIA), and had suffered nothing but “sheer frustration” in the interim, adding, “We cannot get any movement at all.” Moreover, she stated, and underlined by the government’s pledge to make life easier for businesses, “We feel we’re getting more regulation and more burden.”

And with a new minister coming on board thanks to the Ford administration’s recent cabinet shuffle and a looming five-month summer hiatus by the government until the end of October, expectations are that the issue will not be moved forward any time soon.

Pierre LePage, executive director CATO, who first raised the issue at the TICO forum, said the association of tour operators echoed ACTA’s frustration and was very “disappointed” in how the fee issue was being handled, stating, “We feel like we have spent a lot of time and money (lobbying) for not a lot of result.”

LePage made the point that the nature of the contributions had changed dramatically in the years since it was first introduced. “All registrants must contribute, but when it began consumers had no choice but to go to a travel agent.” Now, he told Travel Industry Today, consumers have many more options of places to book their travel and many of them don’t have to contribute, giving them both a free ride and a competitive advantage over registrants who are forced to shoulder the burden for the entire industry.

And he adds that credit card companies constitute “the real compensation fund,” with the TICO fund effectively being a “payer of last resort” to consumers in the event of a provincial travel provider or end supplier’s bankruptcy (when booked by a travel agency), which is all the more reason to review the original intent of the fund (and the corresponding fees to fund it), he says.

TICO chair Jean Hebert said he sympathizes with CATO and ACTA’s concerns and has raised them with (now previous) provincial ministers, adding, “It’s fair to talk about. A fee for consumers is part of the solution in my view.”

He had also preceded the comment with his published Message from Chair stating, “We (TICO) appreciate the opportunity to continue an open dialogue with the government concerning changes to the compensation fund framework.”

But he noted that the government did not seem likely to address the issue until the ongoing regulatory review of the TIA was complete (it was first introduced in 2017).

Ontario regulations require that all travel companies that operate in Ontario be registered, and that all registrants (retail and wholesale) “shall participate in the Fund” at a rate of the greater of $25 or 25 cents per $1,000 of sales, paid semi-annually. As of March 31, the Compensation Fund was nearly $23.5 million.

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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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