No one is turning free money down, but that doesn’t mean Ontario’s travel community is giving the provincial government’s new tourism and hospitality small business support grant a standing ovation.
“This announcement is of course appreciated – and I don’t know of anyone who would turn down a grant – a grant that is all the more necessary given the ongoing government imposed and onerous restrictions that continue to prevent the possibility of consumer travel and one of the largest global economic sectors from recovering,” Ensemble Travel Group CEO David Harris told Open Jaw.
In Harris’ view, Canada’s politicians still haven’t grasped the complexity of the travel industry. For Harris, grants cannot fix the real issue facing the industry which is under what conditions will travel once again be permitted, something that no level of government in Canada has publicly stated.
Until this has been defined and communicated, he says, business owners are hesitant to sign or endorse loans and subsidy programs as it is impossible for them to know how long it will be before they can resume the promotion and selling of travel to the public.
“It is absolutely a “cart before the horse” situation,” he said.
“Government support for any vertical within the travel industry requires that every vertical receive proportionate support, without which, the entire travel eco-system and consumer experience is imperiled,” said Harris.
Judith Coates, an advisor with The Travel Agent Next Door and one of the co-founders of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) said the announcement of the grant program was both a surprise and a relief.
“We were really encouraged that they specifically mentioned ‘travel agencies’ as those who will qualify, however, we’re being cautiously optimistic that this will also include Independent travel advisors,” she told Open Jaw.
She noted that ACITA launched an email campaign two weeks ago to the Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Vic Fedeli. Travel advisors flooded his office with emails describing what it has been like as an Independent travel advisor, to be without business income (other than CRB to help with personal bills) for a year, and then to be turned away from applying for the Ontario Small Business Grant.
“This new tourism grant just may be the lifeline that Ontario Independent advisors need to stay afloat and hang on for a few more months until travel opens up,” said Coates.
Louise Fecteau, General Manager of Transat Distribution Canada, welcomed the announcement and expected many of their Ontario members would take advantage of it and hoped that they would receive the new assistance quickly.
She added that many of their agents already benefit from federal aid programs that have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, which she said were essential to their survival.
“Unfortunately, (they) do not compensate for the loss in revenue which they’ve endured over the past year,” she told Open Jaw.
ACTA has been working for months in Ontario lobbying MPPs to push for a financial support program for small businesses. In an email to Open Jaw, ACTA explains that the Ontario government gave money to TICO, and therefore said agents were not eligible for grants. Now, it has reversed course on its decision.
“This issue has been particularly frustrating – to have the travel agency community specifically omitted from much needed financial support,” said Wendy Paradis, President of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA).
“After two months of intense lobby efforts, ACTA welcomes the news announced in the Ontario Budget of the new Ontario Tourism and Hospitality Small Business Support Grant.”
She added the association would work to ensure that the greatest number of travel agencies and travel agent businesses are eligible for assistance.
The tourism and hospitality small business support grant was introduced by the Ontario Government Wednesday as part of its 2021 budget to aid the sector, including travel agencies, that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grant will provide one-time payments between $10,000 and $20,000 to hospitality-related businesses that don’t qualify for the Ontario small business support grant.
The $100-million program specifically targets travel agencies, hotels, motels, amusement parks, hunting and fishing camps, overnight summer camps, and other recreational camps.
In order to access the grant, business owners need to show they had a minimum 20-per-cent decline in revenue and have less than 100 employees.