Toronto, 09 May 2011: In yet another clear indication that the ACTA-dominated board of directors of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) has not been forthcoming with Ontario travel agencies about how TICO's failed Consumer Awareness campaign is and can be paid for, the Association of Retail Travel Agents-Canada (ARTA Canada) advised today that TICO has not responded to questions about the campaign's financing.
The issue was brought forward when ACTA asserted that TICO's proposed 20% increase on renewal fees was "palatable in light of the value derived by all travel agencies in Ontario through TICO’s consumer awareness campaigns". In further defense of the TICO proposed increases, ACTA went on to state that "the Consumer Awareness Campaign has increased in budget".
ARTA Canada Says the Facts Contradict ACTA's Claims
1. In its 2010 Annual Report, TICO stated that "the campaign [consumer awareness] was not successful in achieving an increase in the awareness of TICO ... awareness of TICO dropped in 2010 to 25% versus 31% in 2009."
2. TICO's expenses for Consumer and Registrant Awareness campaigns actually decreased in 2010 to $544,704 from $626,277 in 2009, while the budgeted amounts for Consumer Awareness remained flat at the same $500,000 with no increases reported in TICO's most recent business plan (2010-2013).
Accordingly, ARTA Canada states that ACTA's primary defenses for TICO's increases based on its consumer awareness campaign value and financial needs are illusionary, if not entirely pure fantasy.
ACTA Justifies Increases by Misstating Compensation Fund Restrictions
Adding insult to injury, what may come as a complete surprise to travel agencies, particularly with ACTA members dominating the TICO board, is just how unaware ACTA is of the very TICO regulations the board administers. Defending TICO's whopping proposed increase in renewal fees, ACTA erroneously states "the Compensation Fund can only be used to reimburse consumers while revenue from registration fees finance TICO’s operations."
However, Ontario Regulation 26/05 says otherwise. According to the Regulation (Section 73.1), TICO is permitted to tap the Compensation Fund, now standing at an estimated $26 million, to pay for reasonable expenses incurred to promote public awareness of the Fund, provisions of the Act and Regulations relating to the protection of payments made by customers for travel services and to provide information to the public on the procedure for making a claim for reimbursement from the Fund under the Regulations.
"It's unacceptable that ACTA not only mischaracterizes the value of TICO's awareness campaigns, which have not achieved their objectives, but also that ACTA uses the importance of these failed campaigns to justify an increase in renewal fees. ACTA misled travel agencies about TICO's awareness campaign financing options and further misled agencies to believe that the budget for same has increased, when in fact, it did not. If there were ever a call to restructure the TICO board and get rid of these out-of-touch and uninformed ACTA board members, this is it", said ARTA Canada President Bruce Bishins, CTC.
Bishins went on to say that as both ARTA Canada and a registrant, he contacted TICO's Corporate Counsel on 02 May 2011 to clarify how the compensation fund is actually used by TICO in accordance with funding allowances for consumer awareness, but that Bishins was informed the matter was being referred directly to TICO President Michael Pepper. Despite a follow-up to Mr. Pepper, no response to Bishins' inquiry has been received to date.
ARTA Canada Submits Objection to TICO's Renewal Fee Increases
Following extensive consultation with its members and other travel agencies in Ontario, ARTA Canada submitted its consolidated opposition to TICO's proposed renewal fee increases. Not a single comment from registrants sent to TICO and copied to ARTA Canada supported TICO's 20% increase. To date, ACTA has not disclosed the position of its own members, but ARTA Canada doubts that the sentiments of ACTA members would be any different. A copy of ARTA Canada's submission to TICO is available by clicking here.