Canadian Travel Press
Issue Date: Aug 10, 2020

The advocacy continues

A conversation with Wendy Paradis, president, ACTA

In the final part of Canadian Travel Press’ conversation with ACTA president Wendy Paradis, she talks about the concerns of the association’s members, ACTA’s participation on the Canadian Tourism Roundtable … and … what keeps her up a night in these difficult times.

Various levels of government have been introducing a range of programs to support individuals and business as a result of COVID-19. Can you talk about some of those programs and how effective they have been in the assistance they provide to ACTA’s members?

The most valued programs have been CEWS and CERB. The Loan Programs of 40K are excellent for most, but larger loan programs are problematic for travel agencies – these programs probably have about a 50/50 success rate.

ACTA president, Wendy Paradis

Rent subsidy programs are also very valued and important. Unfortunately, this program has been problematic as many property owners have refused to participate.

Is there more that government can do? And if so, what are some of the things that ACTA members need from government?

Our industry recovery will lag behind others and that is why we continue to press for continued Sector specific aid to be extended for travel agencies and the travel industry. We have illustrated to government the size and contribution of travel agents and the Canadian travel industry to the overall economy.

We are asking for their support to work with us and safely restart the travel industry in a thoughtful and measured way. We need clear messaging from Government and Health Authorities about what it will take, what is the criteria for this to happen. We’ve asked that the authorities work WITH the industry to come up with a plan and solutions.

Domestic travel in the short term is the most likely. We want government to work with the industry to develop criteria for Canadian residents to safely and freely travel across Canada. At the moment, some provinces still are restricting entry to Canadian residents from other provinces.

We are closely watching what is going on around the world in terms of country-to-country travel bubbles. We’re asking for Canadian governments to work with the industry to develop criteria for Canada to enter into travel bubbles with countries who are successfully flattening the COVID-19 curve.

And we ask that the government work with industry to develop criteria to ease travel advisory levels and restrictions so we can build towards this.

I’m sure that you’re hearing a lot from your members and I’m hoping you can share some of that intelligence? What are their key concerns now and going forward?

Key concerns:

Financial – as the crisis continues –financial concern grows deeper and deeper in regard to sustainability.

Impact on their team members – employees and independents. Many have long term team members who have been with them for several years and even decades. Many leaders are very troubled that their teams have been furloughed for so long. They are also concerned about the key team members finding it necessary to move into other work or industries if the restart of the travel industry continues to be delayed for a long period of time. Travel Agents are highly specialized and are highly valued by their travel agencies.

Rebuilding Consumer confidence for travellers due to traveller concern about the virus and the spread of the virus. Also, due to the financial impact on personal budgets and their ability to prioritize travel purchases over the next couple of years.

Exponential growth of the virus in some key Canadian traveller destinations.

Again, as a follow up, does ACTA have any data on job losses in the retail travel industry; on agency closings or possible closings? And how concerned is the association about the kind of damage that COVID-19 is inflicting on the retail travel industry?

ACTA has no clear information regarding permanent job losses. At the beginning of the crisis in March and April we estimate that 90% of travel agents were furloughed. Most travel agencies only kept a very small team to manage cancellations, changes and new bookings. When the wage subsidy became available many travel agencies moved employees to the wage subsidy if they could. As you know, the wage subsidy has been extended to December which will be very helpful.

ACTA is a member of the Canadian Tourism Roundtable; can you talk a bit about your work there … perhaps share some of its plans going forward?

The mission can be found here

The Canadian Tourism Roundtable is a joint effort of many different sectors of the travel industry. We engage in information sharing and brainstorming of solutions to move forward as an industry.

Our goal is to work together to advocate for a safe and measured restart of the travel industry. We provide a tool for travel agents and the consumer that helps them find out where Canadian residents can travel to. We also promote and communicate all the measures the travel industry has put in place to make travel as safe as possible. And we combine our research efforts on consumer polls, country to country travel bubbles, and communication to the governments.

In general, our efforts are focused on promoting travel within Canada first, followed by travel outside Canada as the COVID-10 curve continues to flatten in Canada and some other countries. We work with many parts of the travel industry, medical officials, governments at all levels and consumers to develop appropriate health and safety measures for each phase.

ACTA’s Wendy Paradis and Heather Craig Peddie with CATO’s Brett Walker

So, are things at the point where the retail travel industry can start talking about next steps? About trying to reopen for business? Or are there obstacles to reopening? And, if there are, what are they?

Many travel agencies have started opening their physical locations as per provincial guidelines.

Many have done a great job throughout the whole period – using Email, Telephone, Virtual “Zoom” type appointments with clients.

Obstacles to reopening? The ability to fully re-open physical locations varies region to region due COVID-19 current health impacts within that region. It also doesn’t make sense for many travel agencies to fully open while high level travel advisories are in place.

Last question … what keeps you up at night … and why?

The longevity of the COVID-19 crisis and the health and economic impact. The exponential growth in some areas of the world and the impact this has on humanity AND our industry is very troubling.

I’m frustrated by the lack of individuals taking responsibility to do some very simple things to keep the virus spread as low as possible – physical distancing, masks, hand washing etc.

I’m acutely aware of this every day especially because of the industry work that we do and our daily discussions with government and travel industry leaders about the impacts of COVID-19 and barriers we are facing to restart the industry.

However, although a lot is still unknown, I am still hopeful and confident. Canada is taking the crisis seriously, as are some other countries. The travel industry has put some excellent measures in place to keep travellers as safe and healthy as possible. We are also starting to see travel re-start province to province and the idea of Canada participating in select country-to-country travel bubbles may be on the near horizon.