In the wake of the federal government’s first budget in two years, ACTA says that while it is hopeful that the government’s view that vaccine rollouts will continue at a rapid pace through the end of June, it is concerned that the timeline may be premature.
The association says that in a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland last week, ACTA learned that the budget assumes that vaccine rollout will continue at a rapid pace through the end of June, with Minister Freeland stating: “I believe Canadians are going to have a great summer.”
ACTA president and CEO, Wendy Paradis observed that: “While we hope that the Minister is correct, ACTA along with other travel and tourism associations stressed that the timelines are premature.”
And she added: “Given that we are still under very strict lockdowns, borders closed and travel restrictions in place — travel agencies and travel agents will not see any notable increase in revenue in Q3 and Q4 when aid programs are set to expire.”
Following its review of the 724-page, Budget 2021, ACTA reports that it has identified areas of benefit and of significant concern for travel agents.
At the top of the list is what the association describes as ‘rapidly declining aid starting in July 2021,’ something it says “will be devastating.”
ACTA says that although the extension of financial aid programs through to September 2021 is welcome news, there is a serious concern with the decline in the aid programs scheduled to begin in July.
Said Paradis: “Leading up to the Budget, ACTA was hearing from multiple sources in Ottawa that there were strong indications that the government would be eliminating several financial support programs including CEWS, CERS and CRB programs.”
She continued: “This move would follow New Zealand and Australia who ended their Job Keeper or wage subsidy programs effective March 31, 2021 causing a devastating impact on travel agent businesses.”
The fact that such was not the case was a positive for the industry, however, ACTA’s president made it clear that the association has “grave concerns about the aggressive tapering off for all of these programs in the travel industry.”
To that end, the association — along with other travel and tourism associations and our members — will continue to aggressively lobby the government to stress the importance of these financial support programs to our industry.
Lobby, Lobby, Lobby
During the next 30 days, ACTA’s urgent lobby priorities will include:
- Extension of the critical CEWS, CERS and EI programs at maximum support to the end of year, or 90 days after travel restrictions lifted
- Maintaining the CRB benefits at the current $500/wk level to the end of 2021, or 90 days after travel restrictions lifted
- Extending the RRRF application deadline and other liquidity programs (CEBA, HASCAP, etc) to the end of 2021, or 90 days after travel restrictions lifted, and expand the accessibility to sole proprietors for programs where this criteria is not in effect.
- Extending the CRHP to the end of 2021, or 90 days after travel restrictions lifted.
And ACTA makes it abundantly clear that although the Budget has been tabled, it still has to move through the parliamentary process and as such, by no means is this document the end product.
The association states that the Budget is currently a framework, although the government will move quickly to introduce the Budget Implementation Act (BIA). The government’s BIA will need to go through the usual legislative process before becoming law – including important committee reviews by both the House and Senate where the legislation will potentially be amended several times before reaching its final form.
As a result of this process, ACTA says that this means that our industry still has the opportunity to influence changes to the programs or direct how some of the monies earmarked for the programs can be utilized.
ACTA has already had meetings with some key Ministries and will continue this newest lobbying campaign over the next several weeks.
Yes, There Is Good News
On the plus side of the ledger, ACTA points to the fact that the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) application deadline was extended to June 30, 2021, though travel agents have experienced many challenges with this program, much like some of the other liquidity programs.
The government has proposed to create the Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP), designed to help hardest hit businesses. The CRHP could provide opportunities as the CEWS program decreases, business begins to pick up and there is a need to rehire, although funding amounts decrease monthly and the program is only available June to November, 2021.
The government’s allocation of the $1B for Tourism is currently broken out to $500M for the Tourism Relief Fund –administered by the Regional Development Agencies, and $500M to Festivals, Canadian Heritage and Destination Canada.
ACTA also points out that in the week before there budget, the announcement of the financial relief package for Air Canada was ‘significant,’ with Paradis pointing out that: “In speaking with travel associations around the world, ACTA understands that Canada is the only country where a travel agent commission protection program has been included by the government airline financial relief package.”
And since the April 12 announcement that a deal had been reached, ACTA has been soliciting feedback from travel agency and travel agent Members highlighting the gaps with the protection of commissions.
While Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations have been making positive adjustments to refund policies, gaps in commission protection remain.
The association is also continuing to work with its travel supplier partners on the refund process and the protection of travel agent commissions.
ACTA notes that in its original ‘ask’ of the government, it stressed the importance that if consumer refunds were mandated, airlines and tour operators needed to be given funding to cover travel agent recall commissions.
ACTA has already reached out to the Ministries of Finance and Transport advising that there are some gaps in recall commission protection commissions and that an additional fund may be required.