ACTA's 2023 Toronto Summit: Advocacy, Education, and the Evolution of the Travel Advisor

On 14SEP, Open Jaw attended the 2023 Eastern Canada Travel Industry Summit in Toronto. ACTA, formerly recognized as the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies announced its new title: Association of Canadian Travel Agencies & Travel Advisors.

In an on-site interview with Open Jaw, ACTA's President, Wendy Paradis, shared how this rebranding resonates with the significance for the advocacy organization to reflect its membership.

A core message of the event was the twin pillars of advocacy and education. The Summit's theme was centred on forging a better, stronger, and healthier travel industry.

In her opening speech, Paradis observed that although many of the 500 attendees at the event identify as 'travel advisors,' one should adopt a title that reflects their identity, whether that be a travel curator, travel counsellor, travel specialist, or even travel guru.

The event featured a full schedule of speakers, panel dialogue, workshops and a tradeshow, during which Open Jaw convened an industry panel to dissect the concerning decline in travel professionals. They deliberated on an essential question: How can we render the travel industry attractive to newcomers - whether it be pilots or advisors?

OJ staff also engaged in discussions with attendees, with a focus on the perspectives of the attending travel advisors. One advisor revealed her preference for ACTA's Summit over international conferences, citing its Canadian focus. For her, ACTA's events were more accessible, aligning with her tight schedule. Additionally, the rich, Canadian-specific knowledge delivered at the Summit was deemed invaluable.

A significant number of advisors and agencies grapple with repaying government loans, a subject ACTA also touched upon during the Summit, explaining how the organization is advocating for financial relief. Paradis highlighted ACTA's digital petition pressing for extended repayment terms for CEBA loans.

As Open Jaw reported, that same afternoon, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that more time - one year - would be provided for small businesses, including travel agencies and independent travel advisors, to repay CEBA loans (Canada Emergency Business Account), which were due to be repaid by 31DEC 2023.

At the time, this appeared to be good news for struggling business owners.

Then, when industry leaders and advocates got to read the fine print, the other shoe dropped.

"Hours after the announcement, new details appeared on the Department of Finance website that described a very different picture," said Paradis.

Although more time would be given to repay CEBA loans, the Canadian government had removed the interest-free loan forgiveness (worth up to $60,000 if businesses repaid the total amount by the deadline).

In response, ACTA has plans to intensify its advocacy efforts through 04DEC 2023, including the letter-writing campaign that began on 29AUG.

"We need to make it clear that this CEBA extension is by no means enough to help our members," said Paradis. "We will continue to work alongside other stakeholders in our coalition to make sure the message gets through."

ACTA is asking that the deadline to repay CEBA and RRRF loans be extended by two years, from 31DEC 2023 to 31DEC 2025. It says it will also advocate for relief on federal HASCAP (Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program) loans, though the terms of that program are different than CEBA and RRRF.

ACTA is at the forefront of negotiations regarding commission payment reforms with travel suppliers, advocating for a more streamlined and encompassing commission framework. Complementing this, there's a pronounced emphasis on providing extensive educational resources for travel advisors.

A sentiment echoed throughout the Summit was the unanimous emphasis from industry leaders on the criticality of charging service fees, underscoring the value and expertise of modern travel advisors.

Nearing the commencement of the Toronto Summit, six national awards were presented, including a new award recognizing Lifetime Achievement by a CTC/CTM.

The Toronto Summit sets the stage for the three-event series, with subsequent events planned for Western Canada and Québec also in SEP.

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