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Saturday,  May 18, 2024 6:30 PM 

Advocates call on Ontario to amend grant rules for independent agents as deadline looms

Advocates call on Ontario to amend grant rules for independent agents as deadline looms
From left: Wendy Paradis, president, ACTA; Brenda Slater, ACITA/Beyond the Beach.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) is sounding the alarm with the Ontario government over independent travel agents being ineligible for the Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant.

“ACTA continues to call on the Ontario government to amend the grant rules to include independent travel agents,” said Wendy Paradis, President, ACTA, in a release on Tuesday (June 22). “The grant is intended to support the hardest-hit businesses in travel and tourism and the exclusion of independent travel agents doesn’t make sense.”

The situation is becoming critical as the deadline for the program is this Friday, June 25.

READ MORE: Ontario launches relief grant for travel agents, tourism businesses

“ACTA’s lobbying efforts with political and bureaucratic officials are ongoing and all angles are being pursued before the June 25 deadline,” Paradis stated.

Despite positive discussions, government officials have continually repeated their position that only TICO-registered agencies are eligible for the grant, which does not cover individual independent travel agents as they are only registered through their host agencies, ACTA said.

“This leaves thousands of Ontario’s independent travel agents excluded from the program due to a technicality, which is unacceptable,” said Paradis. “Independent travel agents are largely only eligible for federal support under the Canada Recovery Benefit. The grant program is one of the few lifelines potentially available to these entrepreneurs.”

She added: “The government’s mandate to reduce red-tape and support small business is not in line with the grant program eligibility rules.

ACITA outlines the issues

Ontario’s launch of a relief fund for travel and tourism businesses launched on May 13 and the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) was quick to speak out about issues its membership was having with the program.

Speaking to PAX on May 14, the grassroots group quickly identified “big stumbling blocks” with the grant – as ACITA co-founder Brenda Slater of Beyond the Beach put it.

The first problem has to do with registration – Ontario requires agencies to be registered with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).

READ MORE: “Big stumbling blocks”: Independent advisors face obstacles in applying for ON tourism grant

In Slater’s case, her business is self-branded, and while TravelOnly is her host agency, her company name, Beyond The Beach, is registered with TICO under that name.

“But most independent advisors are not self-branded,” Slater said.

From top left, clockwise (of ACITA): Judith Coates, TTAND; Brenda Slater, Beyond the Beach; Nancy Wilson, TravelOnly. (Supplied)

Advisors who fall into this category, therefore, face problems in the system because their business isn’t named under the TICO license (it would be their host agency).

All Ontario-based travel advisors are assigned an individual TICO number once they complete their exam.

“Maybe that’s the number that should be used,” Slater said.

Another issue is that recipients are required to have a business bank account.

Most ICs don’t have one, Slater explained. Many (herself included) have no reason to open a business account because of stringent rules TICO has around handling money.

Another issue is that some advisors, at the time, were able to qualify for the Ontario Small Business Grant, which pays anywhere between $10,000-$20,000 (most agents have received $10,000, Slater said).

But shortly after those applications were approved, many advisors received a letter from the Ontario government asking for verification of the funds in the form of an audit.

Independent travel advisors in Ontario face roadblocks in applying for a new grant that's designed to support travel & tourism, advocates say.

So agents that were approved were then concerned that they would have to return the $10,000 grant, Slater said, and were left in limbo because agencies can’t apply for both the small business grant and the new tourism grant at the same time.

“It’s confusing to me why they’d make this decision and not even talk to somebody that might have some insight,” Slater told PAX at the time.

She said the application process for Ontario's grant is "very vague."

More programs coming

PAX reached out to Ontario’s Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries in May for clarification and did not receive a response.

ACTA said it was assured that there are more opportunities coming with policy development for new programs underway.

“While they reiterated that the current grant program is not intended for independent travel agents, ongoing policy work is being done to support future sector-specific programs,” Paradis said.

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