There is a lot of confusion out there about the role and responsibility of a travel agent during these unusual times. Below is an official explanation from ACTA The Association of Canadian Travel Agents in conjunction with various levels of Governmental Departments associated with Travel and Tourism.
Travel agents act as “agents”
Travel agents, in most circumstances, act as agents for a travel supplier (airline, hotel, cruise, tour company). In almost all circumstances, the funds are transferred to the travel supplier and not held by the travel agent. The travel supplier, not the travel agent, determines in most cases whether you receive a future travel voucher or a refund depending on the terms and conditions of purchase.
When a booking is made through a travel agent, the money is passed on to the travel supplier (i.e. airline, hotel, cruise, tour company). If a refund is applicable, the travel agent has to wait for that money to be paid back to the travel agent before the travel agent is in a position to pass the money back to the consumer. If the travel supplier is offering a future travel voucher, the agent is only in a position to offer a future travel voucher.
Recognition of Future Travel Vouchers
The Federal Government and some Regulated Provinces have recognized the offering of future travel vouchers. The CTA (Canadian Transportation Agency) has confirmed in writing and on their website that a future travel voucher for a reasonable duration (such as 24 months) is suitable compensation for air travel bookings due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The Ontario Government through the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services and TICO (the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, which is the Travel Industry Regulator in Ontario) has acknowledged on their website that a future travel voucher for a reasonable duration is suitable compensation for travel bookings due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The Quebec Government through the OPC (the Option de la Protection du Consommateur, which is the Travel Industry Regulator in Quebec) has stated that it is not illegal for tourism service providers to offer various solutions to the customer whose trip has been cancelled. The OPC has stated that in fact, it may be advantageous to accept this proposal [a future travel voucher] if it is convenient for you.
Delays in processing refunds/credits
Many airlines, hotels, cruise, and tour companies, in normal circumstances, take up to 12 weeks to process refunds. In the current environment, there are clearly significant delays on top of this. These delays are not within the control of the travel agent, however, we understand that this is a very difficult situation for all, and are requesting that future travel vouchers or refunds are processed within 14 days. It is also important to note that the travel industry is prioritizing requests based on departure dates.
Due to the government-imposed travel bans and need for consumers to cancel or postpone travel plans, travel agents are facing an incredibly high level of requests and are doing all they can in the face of this pandemic to service consumers as best they are able. Travel Agents are spending considerable time in contacting suppliers, and delays are to be expected as travel suppliers are also managing the unprecedented volume of global cancellations.
Are cancellation/service fees allowed?
If a consumer has chosen to cancel their travel booking which the travel supplier has not cancelled, the consumer would be subject to the terms and conditions of the travel supplier, which may include cancellation fees.
If a travel supplier has offered a future travel voucher, as a best practice, ACTA recommends that travel suppliers should not apply any additional costs to the issuance and redemption of vouchers.
In general, Travel agents, like everyone else, deserve to be paid for work that they do especially in situations like this, which are not of their making and which are considerably more complicated and time-consuming than normal. In full disclosure at the time of booking, ACTA supports Travel Agencies who apply a professional fee. Travel agents spend a tremendous amount of time researching a customer’s travel plans and helping consumers understand what the options are and how best to access them.
However, in some regulated provinces, specifically Ontario, Travel Agencies are restricted from charging a fee or penalty to process a refund when it was not disclosed at the time of booking nor stated on the customer’s invoice.
Any fees you are charged, or any other loss you may have experienced, should be pursued under your travel insurance. There are different types of travel insurance policies with different coverages which can be dependent upon the date the policy was purchased. It is very important for a customer to review their policy with their Travel Agent, in order to determine what the best option for the customer is.
ACTA has received numerous reports from travel agents that have reported sales for new bookings, in particular for 2021 and beyond. This pandemic has brought hardship to many sectors, but none more so than the travel industry. Travel agents will be here to assist Canadian travellers when they are ready for a well-deserved holiday when this pandemic ends. Keep dreaming about your next travel adventure!