August 18, 2019

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Travel biz pleads for regulation

Longtime lobbying of province has been fruitless

Philip Houde says most people would be very surprised to know the travel sector is unlicensed, and anyone can call themselves a travel professional without credentials.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Philip Houde says most people would be very surprised to know the travel sector is unlicensed, and anyone can call themselves a travel professional without credentials.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2014 (1794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The local travel industry has been lobbying the Manitoba government for more than four years to start regulating travel agents and agencies and provide better protection for consumers, but to no avail.

"In its current state, our industry is completely unregulated, and consumers are always at risk if a tour operator, airline or travel agency were to go under," said Philip Houde, owner and general manager of River East Travel & Cruise Centre and a past vice-chairman of the Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA).

"Before you are allowed to cut hair in Manitoba you must have 2,000 hours of apprenticeship, yet if you want to call yourself a travel professional, you can go down to Staples this afternoon and print business cards and that's it," he added. "And I bet you nobody knows these businesses aren't licensed."

Houde admitted it's unusual to have an industry lobbying for more government oversight. Usually, it's the opposite.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2014 (1794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The local travel industry has been lobbying the Manitoba government for more than four years to start regulating travel agents and agencies and provide better protection for consumers, but to no avail.

"In its current state, our industry is completely unregulated, and consumers are always at risk if a tour operator, airline or travel agency were to go under," said Philip Houde, owner and general manager of River East Travel & Cruise Centre and a past vice-chairman of the Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA).

"Before you are allowed to cut hair in Manitoba you must have 2,000 hours of apprenticeship, yet if you want to call yourself a travel professional, you can go down to Staples this afternoon and print business cards and that's it," he added. "And I bet you nobody knows these businesses aren't licensed."

Houde admitted it's unusual to have an industry lobbying for more government oversight. Usually, it's the opposite.

"But our main point is that for the protection of consumers in Manitoba, there should be something in place."

Houde and ACTA regional manager Shelley Morris cited a recent court case in which the owner of a Winnipeg travel agency — Kandi Lifestyles Travel — pleaded guilty to cheating a dozen clients out of more than $150,000. They said the case underscores the need for better protection for local consumers.

According to ACTA, there are currently about 100 travel agencies and 500 travel agents working in Manitoba. It wants the province to do four things:

— Set up an independent body to oversee regulation of the industry.

— Establish a registration and certification system for travel resellers and require them to meet minimum education standards and financial requirements.

— Create a consumer-funded compensation fund similar to the one in Quebec, where travellers pay a $2 to $3 fee on every $1,000 spent on a travel package. So if they spend $5,000, they pay an additional $10 or $15, with the money going into a fund to compensate customers if an airline, tour operator, cruise line or travel agency goes out of business.

— Enact new regulations to ensure honesty and accuracy in travel advertisements by requiring the advertised price to include everything except government-imposed fees. Houde and Morris noted consumers in Ontario and British Columbia also have various degrees of protection.

They said what's frustrating is in 2010, the Manitoba government said the travel industry was one of the industries it would be targeting as part of its five-year Let's Make a Better Deal consumer-protection strategy. And since then, a number of senior government officials, including Premier Greg Selinger, have said legislation was pending, but nothing has materialized.

In an email sent earlier this week in response to a Free Press request for an interview, the government said it considered taking action several years ago in the wake of several airline bankruptcies and an increase in consumer complaints. It said the provincial Consumer Protection Office also looked at measures taken in other jurisdictions, such as the establishment of a designated compensation fund and offices to administer the fund.

"However, there were strong concerns that model would not be practical in Manitoba based on the lower volume of travellers, and could result in significant increases to travel costs for consumers, which would not be acceptable."

It said the industry has since stabilized and the number of consumer complaints has declined, so it is focusing instead on other consumer-protection initiatives, including cracking down on misleading cable and Internet promotions and better protecting consumers who use real estate agents and home renovators.

However, the Consumer Protection Office will continue to monitor the industry closely and work with the industry to review any new and emerging methods for consumer protection and complaint resolution, it added.

But Houde doesn't buy the excuse that setting up a compensation fund would be too costly for Manitoba consumers. He maintained they deserve the same level of protection as consumers in other provinces, he added.

"When a school group puts thousands of dollars down for a trip, shouldn't they at least have the assurance of placing this money with a business that has in place some minimum standards?"

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

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