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Friday,  June 21, 2024 8:32 PM 

“People are looking forward”: Change & optimism at ACTA summit in Toronto


“People are looking forward”: Change & optimism at ACTA summit in Toronto
ACTA President Wendy Paradis photographed at ACTA's travel industry summit in Toronto on Thursday (Sept. 14). (Pax Global Media)
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 DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Change was in the air on Thursday (Sept. 14) as ACTA – now known as The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and Travel Advisors – kicked off its 2023 summit series, "Connect. Inspire. Grow,” in Toronto, welcoming more than 500 attendees.

While a jam-packed agenda of speakers, panel discussions, workshops, and a trade show, unfolded at the Toronto Congress Centre, activity was simultaneously happening at the government level as Ottawa, yesterday, revealed that it will extend the repayment deadline for its small business pandemic loan program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday (Sept. 14) that the deadline for the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) – a COVID-era benefit that many travel advisors utilized – will be extended to the end of 2024.

The deadline was originally set by Dec. 31, 2023, and based on ACTA’s own survey data, many travel advisors were unable to repay the principle and interest on the CEBA (as well as the RRRF and HASCAP loans).

More than 500 people attended ACTA's summit in Toronto. (Pax Global Media)

Any business that missed the deadline would start accruing interest and have to repay the loan in full by the end of 2025, as per the original terms. That deadline, now, will be extended to the end of 2026.

It’s somewhat good news, and it was perhaps kismet Trudeau would share the update on the same day as ACTA’s summit in Toronto – one of three events happening this month.

ACTA, which represents Canada’s retail travel sector, has been seeking information on preferred solutions for loan repayment and forgiveness, extending repayment deadlines, and modifying loan terms for more than a year now.

“We are delighted…and a little surprised,” said ACTA President Wendy Paradis, speaking to PAX at yesterday’s conference. 

Travel advisors from The Travel Agent Next Door gather at ACTA's Toronto summit. (Pax Global Media)

The surprise, Paradis said, has to do with the fact that the extension was announced in September, as opposed to December when the deadline was supposed to hit.

“What we found working with this government through COVID is that decisions are made at the very last minute,” Paradis said. “So I'm delighted the news came in mid-September, versus December 29.”

ACTA still needs to comb through the details to ensure the CEBA extension truly benefits the travel trade – and some of the fine print, since yesterday, has already begun to surface.

CBC News is reporting that businesses will still lose the forgivable portion of the loan if they don't repay in the coming months.

Team Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations at ACTA's trade show. (Pax Global Media)

Businesses will be given a small extension — until Jan. 18, 2024 — to qualify for debt forgiveness, and businesses that refinanced their loans will be given until March 28 to qualify.

All loans will reportedly start accruing five per cent interest if not repaid by Jan. 19, but ACTA is fighting to extend the deadline for loan repayment (and forgiveness) to 2025, Paradis said.

Meanwhile, a letter-writing campaign that ACTA has launched will hopefully help get the message through to decision makers in Ottawa.

The campaign, which runs until Sept. 29, calls on Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to provide more time for federal loans to be repaid.

Lessner Gomez, Director of the Cuba Tourist Board in Toronto (left) meets with attendees during ACTA's trade show. (Pax Global Media)

ACTA is asking the industry to send a letter to their Member of Parliament and Minister Freeland, and has set up a user-friendly platform that automatically generates a pre-written document, outlining the key issues, as well as the mailer’s designated MP.

And the team is trying to make this as easy as possible – QR codes that activate the letter portal were placed on every table at yesterday’s summit, giving all attendees a chance to get involved.

“Advocacy is an art,” as Paradis put it, noting the positive actions that can occur when MPs have hundreds (or even thousands) of letters, demanding change, sitting in their inbox. (For more on the campaign, click here).

New season, new name

Change, yesterday, wasn’t limited to government loan policies. As previously reported, Paradis revealed that ACTA, moving forward, will now go by a new name.

Instead of the “Association of Canadian Travel Agencies,” the association will now be known as the “Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and Travel Advisors.”

The change was done to “modernize and be more reflective of active members,” Paradis shared, saying that discussions to change ACTA’s name began in 2018.

Team Independent by Flight Centre at the ACTA Toronto summit. (Pax Global Media)

Traditionally, travel agencies have been ACTA members, and years back, the industry didn’t have the high number of independent sole proprietors that it has today, Paradis explained.

With many host agencies serving sole proprietorships, “we thought it would be a great idea to change our name to better reflect ACTA members,” she said.

“The travel agency business has really changed,” Paradis told PAX. “Twenty, thirty years ago, there were outside sales agents – as they were known back then – but jump forward to 2023, and even in the last five to 10 years, the travel advisor role has really evolved. Adding ‘travel advisor’ to our name is more representative of our membership.”

ACTA President Wendy Paradis addresses attendees at the Toronto stop of ACTA's travel industry summit series. (Pax Global Media)

It also became clear to ACTA, during COVID, that it had to advocate on behalf of members differently – by using terms like “independent travel advisor,” for example – because many sole proprietors were blocked from accessing COVID benefits.

Moving forward, ACTA will use the term “travel advisor” when referencing the trade in media interviews, and in its messaging.

The acronym “ACTA,” however, will not change. As much as “AC-TA-TA” rolls off the tongue, the original short form will remain, Paradis clarified.

“We’re almost 50 years old, and with the brand presence we have, our social media, and where we rank on search engines, we think it works. So, we’re happy to keep it as ACTA and add the tag line travel agencies and travel advisors,” Paradis said.

“People are looking forward”

ACTA’s next summit takes place in Richmond, BC on Sept. 21, and then in Laval, QC on Sept. 27.

There will be some crossover from the Toronto event – Paradis noted that 80 per cent of the advocacy work that ACTA does impacts travel advisors across the country.

However, some of the content in Vancouver and Quebec will be customized to reflect each province’s own travel regulations, and market activity, she said.

The keynote speakers also vary – Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, will speak in British Columbia, while yesterday in Toronto, attendees heard from Pam Hoffee, president of Avalon Waterways, who reviewed global travel trends and ways to maximize success. 

(Avalon, notably, will host ACTA's upcoming European River Cruise Summit, a seven-day “Romantic Rhine” itinerary, from Oct. 21-28).

Pam Hoffee, president of Avalon Waterways, speaks at ACTA's Toronto summit. (Pax Global Media)

All three summits feature panel discussions and presentations by travel leaders, from various sectors.

Yesterday’s Toronto event, which was emceed by Ryan McElory of Travel Agency Tribes, organized a panel, moderated by ACTA Chair of the Board Mary Jane Hiebert, featuring Lisa Pierce, vice president, global sales for Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations, Zeina Gedeon, CEO of Trevello Travel Group, Joseph Adamo, president of Transat Distribution Canada and chief sales and marketing officer of Transat, and Michael Johnson, president of Ensemble.

Each individual shared insight about the latest industry trends, and discussed ways of maximizing return on effort.

Stay tuned for PAX’s report on that discussion.

From left: Mary Jane Hiebert, Chair of the ACTA Board; Michael Johnson, president, Ensemble;  Joseph Adamo, president of Transat Distribution Canada and chief sales and marketing officer of Transat;  Zeina Gedeon, CEO, Trevello Travel Group; Lisa Pierce, VP, global sales, Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations, (Pax Global Media)

Paradis also took time to outline ACTA’s advocacy priorities, which includes lobbying Ottawa to reduce unnecessary administration and financial burdens by investing in workforce development so the travel industry can rebuild.

For a breakdown, see PAX’s previous report from the summit here.

Educational sessions were also held that touched on the latest tools for the trade, artificial intelligence and its impact on the industry, mental health and wellness and expert tips for selling cruises.

There were guest appearances, too. Andrew Grantham, a senior economist with CIBC, took to the stage to review how the Canadian economy is coping with higher interest rates (in a nutshell, CIBC is not seeing a recession just yet).

The winners of ACTA’s national awards were also announced – click here to see who won.

Speaking to PAX at the end of the day, Paradis noted how the vibe at this year’s summit was more positive compared to last year’s event, when the threat of COVID-19, and the return of possible restrictions, still lurked in the shadows. 

“There is so much energy in the room this year,” Paradis said. “People are looking forward, they are excited about the future.”

“On the philosophy of being a travel professional, and that time and knowledge is valuable, there is real evolution, forward and up, on that. I really saw and heard that today.”

To see more pictures from the summit, including scenes from ACTA's trade show, "like" and visit PAX's Facebook here


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