By Kristin Hosie
TICO became somewhat of a bad word in the Ontario event planning industry over the last couple of years. It came as a surprise and shock to many planners that legislation was in place requiring them to become registered with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) in order to provide travel services to their clients, something that had been common practice for ages.
But Ontario isn’t the only province that has this requirement – both Quebec and British Columbia also require planners to offer a similar form of Consumer Travel Protection. Currently, talks are occurring in Manitoba to legislate this as well. When the act was passed in 2002, the province of Ontario gave the Travel Industry Council of Ontario responsibility for the administration of the Act.
When founder and COO Julie Peden began operating Ruby Sky Event Planning Inc. in 2003, the business was built on the concept of alleviating a client’s workload and providing full-service support for a conference or special event. This includes, without question, providing travel and transportation needs. Compensation was offered by the agency once an IATA number was provided in the form of commission. No additional cost to the client – just convenience.
In 2013, the planning industry was faced with a very real decision: No longer offer this service to your clients, completely alter your business plan and client offerings, or attain a TICO certification at great financial expense to the business. Whether or not a business owner agreed with the legislation became irrelevant. This was a change that needed to be faced head-on.
Despite initial resistance, this was a story of success in adjustment and adherence to this requirement.
Ruby Sky saw three options:
- The event planner organizes and takes money from the client and pays the suppliers for the travel services. Under this scenario, registration under the Act is required. The event planner (individual or entity) would be required to meet all aspects of TICO’s registration criteria.
- The event planner arranges and books travel services on behalf of the client and the client pays the suppliers or travel agent. Under this scenario, the event planner would be required to have an agreement with a registered travel agency, as a contractor and meet TICO’s Education Standard for Travel Counselor. There will certainly be proportionate fees attached to this in finding a registered travel agent to partner with.
- The event planner provides advice to the client which hotel or accommodation to utilize and which transportation to utilize. The client makes the reservations and pays the suppliers or pays the travel agent. Under this scenario, provided the event planner does not make any reservations and only advises the client which travel services it should utilize, no action is required in respect to compliance with TICO.
After many conversations with the various industry organizations and lobby groups such as the Business Events Industry Coalition of Canada (BEICC), the decision was made that the only option that made sense for Ruby Sky was to comply, and to register as a Travel Agency under the Ontario Travel Industry Act 2002 (TIA). Changing the company’s entire business structure would not be welcomed by long term clients who had come to expect this high level of service from us. This solution, unfortunately, won’t be realistic for everyone in the industry, as the requirements are definitely steep. The financial investment is significant, and the barriers to entry include proof of a brick-and-mortar establishment (not just a virtual business) and other limitations, most of which are financial. For those of us in this circumstance, adjustment of your business structure may very well be the best option. However, once you’ve made the commitment and investment, there are benefits.
Although a commitment of time to study, both the Supervisor/Manager and Travel Counselor exams were not extremely difficult to pass. And as we are all looking for a great way to differentiate ourselves in this busy marketplace, this can be a great feather in your cap to set you apart from the competition while the shift is underway. Finally, consumer protection is important, and although a challenge initially for compliance, your client’s peace of mind (and yours!) is certainly worth adapting with the industry.
Our industry is not unlike others, where curveballs are thrown, technologies change, and legislation is adjusted. Without change, the event planning industry would never survive. Our clients come to us looking for the latest venue, a unique design concept, a way to incorporate a new technology into their meeting, or a thrilling new entertainment idea. We have it covered and are always on the pulse of the next big idea. Adaptation is what planners do best. With that in mind, there is confidence that this will not slow us down. This is just the latest challenge – one we will all rise to.
About the author
Kristin Hosie has extensive international conference and event management experience as well as an enviable track-record of leadership and success with her events. Kristin’s additional skills include event registration software, mobile apps, social media and Ruby Sky’s annual marketing campaign. For more information on how Kristin and her team can help you, visit www.rubyskyeventplanning.ca