‘Survival’ The Theme Of Day 1 of ACTA Virtual Summit
Lynn Elmhirst, Open Jaw Trends Editor
From the outset of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies’ (ACTA’s) Virtual Summit in the year of COVID, organizers made it clear they weren’t pulling any punches. That the organization was fully in the corner of travel agencies, advisors – and the travel industry itself – in the fight for survival after months of zero revenue.
Two of the first day's sessions amounted to unprecedented advocacy in public.
After securing recognition of the travel industry’s uniquely hard-hit status in the first session – along with an on-camera commitment for ongoing government support - fromFrances McRae,Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for small business, ACTA’s Heather Craig-Peddie, Vice President, Advocacy and Member Relations addressed the need for change in travel industry practices in the next session.
She opened a Canadian Travel Industry panel discussion by reiterating ACTA’s advocacy to protect travel advisors from continued financial hits from pandemic-related cancellations. That includes issues like credit card chargebacks. Or even commission recalls.
But ACTA’s top priority is industry-wide measures for commission protection for agencies and advisors.
Craig-Peddie put supplier representatives in the panel on the spot, reminding attendees about ACTA’s unusual step a few weeks ago of releasing an ‘open letter’ to suppliers.
It underlined the urgent need for a more 'sustainable' relationship and ‘fair compensation’ for agencies, whichCraig-Peddie reiterated to yesterday's panel means ensuring commissions are paid:
At deposit or when a trip is paid in full – not delayed until the date of the trip;
Even if the trip is rebooked or cancelled - especially if a supplier has retained deposit money; and
Also paid on any prepaid upgrades, add-ons or excursions.
But, just like when ACTA’s letter was originally released weeks ago, suppliers on the Canadian Travel Industry panel all declared they were already compensating agencies fairly.
David Green, Vice-President Commercial at G Adventures reiterated the company’s stated core values involve “doing the right thing”.
“We’ve always had fair” commission policies, he said, providing examples including protections, booking flexibility, and lifetime deposits, adding, “We now have upfront commissions policies with preferred partners. Full commissions upfront.”
Brett Walker, who is both General Manager of Collette & Chair of the Canadian Association of Tour Operators referred to Collette’s ‘advance commission program’ as evidence that Collette also was acting in the best interests of agencies.
“The advance commissions can’t be recalled. We’re also eliminating fees for changes so we all keep that booking.”
Together on the Road to Recovery
Walker also pointed out the partnership between suppliers and advisors has never been more important – especially with every company on both sides short-staffed.
Travel suppliers, he said, “have to focus on the supply side of the recovery, and rely on agents to fuel the funnel on the demand side. It will be a partnership like never before.”
Craig-Peddie asked supplier and agency representatives on the panel what role each side has to play in recovery.
Dean Dacko, President of Uniglobe Travel Eastern Canada replied the top priority was, “recognition of the importance of the health of our mutual customers end to end in the experience.”
“Customers have to know they’ll be taken care of,” agreed Walker. And he added the value proposition of both travel advisors and suppliers to consumers was trust.
“Everyone will look back and ask ‘Did the supplier take care of our customers?’” from repatriation to cancellations. “Customers will care, ‘Who can I trust if it ever happens again?’”
Walker suggested, “Agencies and suppliers have to re-write the rule book”. Suppliers, he said, need to implement new safety protocols, flexible booking and communications protocols so advisors have as much, up-to-date information to provide to maximize consumer confidence.
And Rocky Racco, CEO of TTI Travel said in addition to duty of care, advisors need to cement their role as a ‘trusted advisor’ to their clients. “Now is the best opportunity to shine,” he pointed out, citing agency work on client repatriation and some new initiatives that involve tracing to let clients know when a segment of their trip has exposed them to COVID.
On its part, as the travel industry moves towards recovery, ACTA is determined not to let up pressure on suppliers over the issue of ‘fair compensation'. Craig-Peddie pointed out that, “COVID has highlighted the need for changes in the agency / supplier relationship. But it’s not over.”
Asked by Craig-Peddie how to achieve that goal, Zeina Gedeon, CEO at TPI, pointed out, whatever the solution, “it needs to be fair for both sides – and a collaboration.”