Canada's Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA Canada) revealed today that the privacy claim made by the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) at last month's Toronto Town Hall Meeting was false and that registrants were misled. In a discussion dealing with TICO's proposed registry of individual travel counsellors, one which TICO indicated was essential to identify eligible individual sellers of travel in the Province, ARTA Canada president Bruce Bishins told TICO that the Ontario travel regulator already had a database of persons who passed the Education Standards exam and that TICO could use that to make a name-only search tool available on the TICO web site. TICO president Michael Pepper replied that TICO could not use that data due to privacy regulations.
Both Bishins and other registrants challenged Pepper on his assertion that privacy regulations prevented TICO from using the existing data. One registrant went so far as to cite that Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) had no such restriction on this type of data. Pepper insisted that this was incorrect and that TICO had to create a new registry to achieve its database objectives.
ARTA Canada contacted both the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and Ontario's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Both offices advised ARTA Canada that nothing in either the federal nor provincial privacy legislation would prevent TICO from using the data already in its possession to create an online database of persons who have successfully passed the TICO examination.
"Yet again, more misstatements of fact by TICO. From the need to cancel an in-progress election because the Minister of Consumer Services needed to make an imminent appointment of his choice to the TICO board (an appointment which nearly 9 months later has still not been made) to the need to create a fee-based registry of individual travel counsellors because privacy legislation prevents TICO from using data it already has, you just can't believe very much of what TICO says anymore", stated Bishins.
ARTA Canada also advised that it and TICO registrants have begun meetings with Ontario legislators to address new regulations, approved without any industry or public consultation, which would allow TICO to shield from public disclosure financial information about travel companies which are not financially compliant with travel industry regulations. Broader disclosure to the public of financial compliance of TICO registrants was a key recommendation of the Ontario Government itself following the collapse of Conquest Vacations, yet, despite this desire, TICO has succeeded in getting new regulations approved for 01 July 2010 which would allow TICO to withhold registrant financial status information from the public.
Legislators were told that TICO will now be able to lawfully keep the public in the dark, as it did with Conquest, until advance warnings will make no difference and another travel company collapses.
"The public has a right to know this information when they call TICO to inquire about the standing of any travel company. If the Better Business Bureau can find a lawful and balanced way to inform consumers when a business does not have a good track record, then so should TICO be able to do so. After all, isn't that a key component of TICO's consumer protection mandate?", added Bishins.
It is ARTA Canada's position that TICO seeks to protect large wholesalers over the interests of consumers and further relies on the compensation fund to be a "crutch and cure-all" where sanctions and other disciplinary actions might have protected the traveling public more effectively.