The federal government's announcement that airlines can only qualify for aid if they refund clients for cancelled flights could be disastrous for many travel agents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

Red Deer travel agent fears losing all her 2020 income due to Ottawa’s decision

Independent travel agents are bearing the brunt from federal aid policy for airlines

Red Deer travel agent Shauna Sharp has worked long hours to help clients rebook their flights and overseas weddings during these past eight pandemic months — with virtually no pay.

Now the federal government has announced that Canadian airlines can only qualify for federal government aid if they refund clients for cancelled flights from last spring, instead of providing travel vouchers.

Sharp, of Rock-It Travel, thinks this is “great” for many of her clients, who have waited months to receive these refunds.

“I’m glad for them,” she said.

But, the new federal policy could be disastrous for her and many other travel agents.

Sharp explained she will be forced to return the only commissions she has earned all year once the cancelled flights are refunded, according to pre-existing contracts with airline and tour companies.

As an independent travel agent, she doesn’t qualify for CERB or other government relief payments to those who have lost income because of COVID-19.

Travel agents usually collect commissions of between four and 15 per cent from companies once flights, tours or cruises have been paid in full.

Having to return commissions made last spring, in a year when Sharp has made no other income, but still spent many days rebooking overseas weddings — will be ruinous, said the travel agent.

The married mother of three said 75 per cent of independent travel agents working out of their homes are women.

“Most are working moms or single parents and this is all the income they get.”

It’s unfair to make these women declare bankruptcy by taking away all the income they have made so far in 2020 — especially when they have already worked hard to attain it, added Sharp.

The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies has been lobbying the government on behalf of agents, such as Sharp.

On its website, the association states: “The COVID 19 pandemic caused mass cancellations at an unprecedented rate last spring. Based on consumer feedback, ACTA and the travel industry understands the desire to provide refunds to consumers on COVID-19 affected bookings wherever possible.”

However, the assoication is also aware that Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s announcement that consumer refunds will be a condition of any Canadian airline or travel industry aid package, will cause hardship for many of its members.

“ACTA is opposed to all commission recalls,” the association states on its website — and is calling on the government to cover commissions as part of any aid package.

So far, Sharp hasn’t heard any response from Ottawa. But she said she’s met with local MPs, who weren’t aware of what the federal announcement will mean for travel agents.

“They were shocked.”

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