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Sunday,  July 21, 2024 9:40 AM 

Liberals table new bill with targeted support for travel agencies; ACTA, ACITA await details

Liberals table new bill with targeted support for travel agencies; ACTA, ACITA await details
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland. (File photo)
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 Liberal government on Wednesday (Nov. 24) unveiled the types of services that would qualify for its Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, which aims to provide wage and rent supports to select businesses facing pandemic-related challenges, with a subsidy rate of up to 75 per cent.

The eligibility will “generally” be restricted to organizations for which more than 50 per cent of their pre-pandemic revenues were earned through specific services, which the Government of Canada has listed here.

Operating as a travel agency or tour operator made the list, including acting as an agent for tour operators, transportation companies, and short-term lodging establishments in selling travel, tour and accommodation services, or arranging, assembling and marketing tours.

Operating or managing an airport or a facility that allows passengers to board and leave a cruise ship was also included.

READ MORE: CRB to be replaced with “Lockdown Benefit”; targeted aid for travel agencies announced

Organizations would be required to meet the following two conditions to qualify:

  • Average monthly revenue reduction of at least 40 per cent over the first 13 qualifying periods for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (12-month revenue decline); and
  • A current-month revenue loss of at least 40 per cent.

The Liberals’ legislation, Bill C-2, which was first announced in October, aims to update and extend federal wage and rent supports for businesses that have been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The targeted streams have been extended to May 7, 2022, and will cost $7.4-billion.

Bill C-2 is one piece of legislation the Liberal government is prioritizing amid the start of the new parliamentary session.

"Very targeted” support

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s announcement last month divided the wage and rent supports into two programs: the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program.

Freeland, at the time, did not go into specifics regarding what types of businesses would qualify for the first program. But she did say that travel agencies and tour operators would be eligible for the “very targeted” support. 

The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), one of the few (if not only) federal support programs that independent travel advisors, for example, could qualify for, ended that same month.

The Liberals have introduced a pandemic aid bill for travel and tourism businesses. (File photo)

The CRB was replaced with the Canadian Worker Lockdown Benefit, which provides $300 a week to workers who are subject to a lockdown.

This new program is meant to cover those who are not eligible for employment insurance, Freeland said last month.  

The definition of “being in lockdown,” however, is open to interpretation.

Last month, after Ottawa lifted its global "non-essential" travel advisory for fully-vaccinated Canadians, one could argue that travel advisors were now in the clear to resume business.

But it’s not that simple. As the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) has previously stated, all barriers currently impacting travel, including Canada's expensive mandatory molecular testing requirement at the border, equates to being in lockdown.

“We assert that any COVID-19 related restrictions on the border, including travel advisories and onerous testing requirements, constitute a government-imposed public health lockdown that interrupts the work of travel agents,” Paradis told PAX in a statement last month.

Despite the lifting of Canada’s non-essential travel advisory, Ottawa’s “avoid all cruise ship travel outside of Canada” warning remains.

READ MORE: Agents still in a "public health lockdown" despite lifted advisory, says ACTA's Paradis

In a Nov. 24 release, the Government of Canada states that businesses that do not qualify under the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, but are still facing significant losses, may be eligible for the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program.

Wendy Paradis, president, ACTA. (File photo/Pax Global Media)

Under this program, the maximum subsidy rate for the wage and rent subsidies would be set at 50 percent for eligible entities from October 24, 2021, to March 12, 2022.

Like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, both programs will be administered by the Canada Revenue Agency.

As the government has not yet released the text of Bill C-2 itself, ACTA, currently, said it cannot speak to the implications of the bill for independent travel agents and other "potentially important technical aspects" until the full bill is released. 

"We expect further details imminently," ACTA told PAX in an emailed statement on Nov. 25.

"We are actively engaged with the Coalition of Hardest-Hit Businesses and the Ministry of Finance to understand the implications for travel agencies and independent travel agents. Once more information is released, we will share our analysis and recommendations in a Member Advisory and will issue a press release." 

Aid for a 'sector within a sector'

The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) recently completed an email campaign in which they, once again, sent messages to every Canadian MP to highlight how independent travel advisors have fallen through the cracks during the pandemic. 

"We have had many meetings already, a lot of them with Liberals. Every politician we speak to, regardless of stripe, recognizes we have been left behind," ACITA's Nancy Wilson of TravelOnly told PAX. "Many Liberal MPs are going to bat for us."

While the government has committed to providing ongoing wage and rent subsidies until May of 2022, it "only benefits storefront agencies," Wilson pointed out. 

ACITA, in its messaging to politicians, explains how it is "unfair to not give us aid just because our business model is different." 

"We have asked them to provide us with a vehicle to deliver aid to our 'sector within a sector,' or sub sector," Wilson said. 

The alternative Hardest Hit Business Recovery Program, too, only focuses on providing wage and rent subsidies.

And Wilson doubts independent agents will qualify for the Lockdown benefit. "As usual, we feel left behind," she said. 

Still, ACITA remains hopeful. "We keep being told they are hearing us, that they know we are in desperate need of assistance," Wilson said. "So we remain hopeful that we are making headway." 

"Until we see something tangible, we will continue to meet with politicians to ensure we are given some support similar to what travel agencies will receive." 

"Our entire industry is crippled, and it needs every last one of us to keep it from crumbling."

For more info on the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery and Hardest-Hit Business Recovery programs, click here

This is a developing story.

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