Advisor Says Small Travel Businesses Betrayed by Gov’t

Steph Switzer, owner of Exclusive To You Travel Services, reached out to Open Jaw this week.

“I was hoping that you would read my story in consideration for publication,” she wrote to us. “There are many of us Travel Agents caught up in the same scenario I have outlined below.”

Here is Steph’s story, in her own words:

“At the time of writing this story:

It’s been 57 weeks since our Industry has been shut down
It’s been 29 weeks since my CERB benefits ended
It’s been 15 weeks since I have gone without any of the promised Gov’t Support I am entitled to
It’s been 15 weeks that I’ve been trying to work with the CRA and am not getting anywhere…

Travel Advisor Steph SwitzerI have worked as a Travel Agent Full Time for around 9-years building my business from the ground up. I am a Self-Employed Independent Contractor whose compensation structure is solely based on commissions. We get paid commissions by suppliers for selling their products to our clients, the general model is payment is received once the Client has traveled. This means that we sometimes get paid months down the road after completing the work that we did for our Clients and the Suppliers. I own and manage a small boutique Travel Agency in Stouffville, Ontario with several Associate Agents across Ontario. We have a great book of business in the good times, and we work very hard for the commissions we earn.

On March 13, 2020 our whole World as we knew it changed, the Borders started to shut down and Canada imposed a Travel Advisory against non-essential International Travel. That travel advisory is still in place to date. 99% of my business is International Travel, so my earnings from my Travel Business ceased immediately.

Fortunately the Government was quick to roll out CERB which was of great assistance. Not only was a I required to continue to work for most of 2020 counseling Clients and canceling travels that I had booked, I was also required to repay commissions for trips that I had booked, which were cancelled and the supplier decided to issue a refund to Clients.

I’d like to add a note here that I support refunds to Clients who have their money tied up in Future Travel Credits for many months now, but the practice of recalling commissions from the Travel Agent who did the work researching and booking the travel arrangements, then canceling the travel arrangements is a disgusting practice. That is money literally taken out of our pockets that we need to help pay for groceries and other necessities to support our families. An interesting analogy to help put this practice into perspective, if a Car Salesperson sells a car they receive commissions, if the manufacturer recalls the car, they do not take the commissions back from the Car Salesperson. Why does the Travel Industry feel it is okay to take back commissions from the Agent who did the work?!

I spent most of 2020 canceling trips, I had my 8-year old Daughter home with me going to school online, so I was fortunate to be eligible to receive CERB from the CRA. CERB ended on September 26, 2020 and CRB was introduced. One of the eligibility guidelines for CRB is that “if you earned more than $38,000 in the calendar year you will need to reimburse $0.50 of the CRB for every dollar of net income you earned above $38,000”. I had a very strong start to the 2020 year where a lot of my Clients traveled in January, February and several were able to get away in March before the Travel Advisory was implemented, so with my Travel Income I earned over $38,000 net income and as such did not apply for CRB at the end of the CERB support, with a plan to apply for it in January 2021 when my income from travel would be $0.00 for the foreseeable future (until the travel advisory was lifted).

In January 2021 I logged into my CRA Account to apply for my CRB benefits which I knew I was eligible for, only to be stopped by a message indicating that my account required further validation. That it did not appear as though I had earned $5,000 in 2020. I was shocked by this, the very reason why I did not apply for CRB at the end of 2020 is because I made over $38,000.

Apparently my T4A’s from my host agency have not made it to my CRA Account for 2019 or 2020. My host agency has reissued my T4A’s however they have yet to appear linked to my account and there is no one at the CRA who seems to be inclined to help, continuing to point it back to the Issuer saying “they must not be submitting them, or if they are they are not doing it correctly” which makes no sense because all of my colleague’s T4A’s have been received to their accounts.

The criteria for CRB is:

You were not employed or self-employed for reasons related to COVID-19
OR
You had a 50% reduction in your average weekly income compared to the previous year due to COVID-19

I would think that the fact that I am a Travel Agent would be indicative of both of the above, however I had gotten caught up in the CRA’s Red Tape.

I submitted all of the validation records that I had available to me proving that my Self-Employed income from 2019 to 2020 suffered a loss of 53.86%. The documents were submitted 18-January, 2021. I continued to call to ensure my documents had been received, initially they had been filed to my CERB Account which was closed, after getting them allocated to the correct Claim (CRB) I had no choice but to wait. My validation Claim was reviewed by the CRA and was declined, I received notice of this on 11-February, 2021. 6-weeks into 2021, 6-weeks without any type of income support.

I re-submitted more documentation to the CRA on 16-February, 2021, for review in objection to my being declined. It is now the end of April and I am still waiting for my Case to be Assigned, now going on 15-weeks without the Government Support that I am entitled to.

I continue to hear commercials on the radio saying that “no business will be left behind” but those commercials are not relaying the truth, I am being left behind, my business is being left behind.

Advisor Steph Switzer and husband Bryan FlintThe Government of Canada Travel Advisory continues to remain in place, I have not earned any income from my Full Time Travel Business in over 1-year now with no end in sight. I am not eligible for any of the small business loans and I have been left to live off my savings which are quickly dwindling.

Our family income has been slashed by 50%. In addition I have business expenses that I still need to pay; running a business is not free. And while Clients are starting to think about travel in 2022, we really have no assurance that those travels will go as booked, so it remains a mystery when our income will return.

At this point it feels as though the Government of Canada does not even want a Travel Industry, we have been continuously disregarded throughout this pandemic.

It’s time that someone stepped up to help those of us who are stuck not receiving the Government Benefits that are in place which we are entitled to.

Thank you in advance for reading my story.”

 

HOW DOES STEPH’S STORY COMPARE TO YOURS?

WE INVITE YOU TO SHARE YOUR OWN STORY IN THE COMMENTS.

Lynn Elmhirst

With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

4 thoughts on “Advisor Says Small Travel Businesses Betrayed by Gov’t

  • 23.04.21 at 11:19 am
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    Sorry to see this is happening to you. I’m wondering why your T4A’s are not showing up with CRA however? Employers have until the end of February to submit them . Things will get better soon enough and remember to push fees and insurance to get your revenue at source

  • 24.04.21 at 7:54 am
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    So frustrating. Has your MP not been very helpful? There is a process for MPs to deal with their constituents’ problems in receiving government services.

  • 24.04.21 at 3:21 pm
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    I read this story with interest. Then some things did not make any sense. The 2019 T4A not being filed by their employer??? Everything is electronic today. Pretty much instant. Looks to be The Travel Agent Next Door didn’t file, according to the writers website. Not smart dealing with a company that does not do things by the book – according to you. Hard to understand, if your filing your taxes are per deadlines, the discovery that your employer was not filing on your behalf to the government, was not brought to light earlier. How did you even receive a T4A? We are all struggling. I, and my staff, have had no problems with receiving all the government hand outs for which I am truly thankful. Looking forward to getting back to business later this year. You should think about moving affiliations… My 2 cents.

  • 24.04.21 at 6:16 pm
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    I feel your frustration. I own an agency and I do get the CEWS but I can’t afford to pay myself with the money that comes in from the government. Like you said, it costs money to keep an agency “running” and with no revenue to speak of, my CEWS has to stay in the business to pay for taxes, licensing fees, insurance, phones, internet, marketing and all the other fixed expenses. I applied for an received the first CEBA loan so when the CEBA expansion loan was announced I applied right away thinking I’d have the funds in a matter of days. I waited weeks only to learn that I had been denied due to some issue with my BN#. Everything is the same. No changes to anything in my business including the BN#. All is up to date. CEBA is not CRA so CRA can’t help me. CEBA has no record of my application. They don’t even see my first application that I was paid on! CEBA says the bank has to help. The bank says they are given no information and do not have access to my account with CEBA. No one has the answer but no one can give me the money I am entitled to. I have handed this over to my MP’s office as they have inside contacts in Finance. Even they can’t seem to figure this out. I have property taxes on my office, insurance and E&O plus quarterly installments on money I can’t afford to take out all due by June. How do I come up with $20K when the government won’t allow me to earn a living but they expect me to keep paying my taxes and expenses? They are leaving plenty of people behind. We have been forgotten and nobody seems to care. Do they secretly hope that travel agents will just die? It sure seems that way. How can the government take away all our abilities to support ourselves and not step up to give us the support we desperately need? Like you my savings are being eaten up quickly. Things may well get worse before they get better with CEWS and the rent assistance dropping in the fall. We may have received the money we did get for nothing if we have to end up closing in the last few months. There is no talk of re-opening the country or the border. Other countries talk about their re-opening and are welcoming tourists. We seemingly have no plan. In the US agents were allowed to sell travel within the US. Europeans were allowed to travel to other European countries. Agents had something to sell. We had nothing and have no hope for anything opening soon, and no one is listening.

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