Consumer Travel Tips
Booking your travel with a TICO registered travel agency means you've got Ontario's travel industry watchdog by your side and protection from an industry financed Travel Compensation Fund.
Everyone looks forward to a vacation, whether it’s in the lights and excitement of a cosmopolitan city or along a quiet stretch of beach on an isolated island. But wherever your vacation is, take the time to ensure it’s a good one. A poor holiday is not only extremely disappointing; the time lost is irreplaceable. Know your rights and what your travel agent should do for you. Keep in mind that much of the success of your trip depends on you. Book only with an Ontario registered travel agency and read all information material carefully.
Narrowing the Choice of your Holiday
The first step in planning a successful vacation is deciding what kind of holiday you want and how much money you have to spend. Would you like to take a cruise or relax on a sunny beach? Are you interested in sightseeing or nightlife? Some vacation spots have a great beach and lots of outdoor activities but once the sun goes down, it’s back to your room to read a book. Do you want a well established resort or one that has just opened? Don’t expect a newly opened hotel in an out-of-the-way location to have all the conveniences or polished services of long-established hotels. The Travel Industry Act, 2002 requires that new accommodations will be completed as they are represented in the advertising material. Do some research. If you know the country you are visiting has a different standard of living than Canada, you won’t be shocked by the living conditions or expect luxurious restaurants and nightclubs on every corner. Ask your friends about possible vacation spots and for the name of the travel agency they used for booking. Were they satisfied with the trip and the arrangements? First-hand references are hard to beat. But remember, you are hearing an opinion based on other people’s likes, dislikes, and standards. Their idea of a good time could be quite different from yours.
Choosing a Travel Agency
Whether online, over the telephone or in person, book your vacation with a travel agency registered in Ontario to benefit from the consumer protection available under the Travel Industry Act, 2002 and Ontario Regulation 26/05. Choosing the right travel agency can make a big difference in avoiding problems, so take the time to pick a firm that can meet your needs. Some agencies specialize in certain destinations or types of trips. If you are planning a mountain-climbing trip to Tibet, an agency specializing in Caribbean cruises is probably not the best choice. To locate a TICO registered travel agency near you, go to www.tico.ca and use the Travel Agency Search feature.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you know about the destination and the specifics of the trip, the better prepared you will be. Find out if your travel agent has been there and when. Has the hotel facility been inspected recently by the tour operator? What kind of tours, sports or social activities are available? Your travel agent can give you suggestions but only you know what you really want. Don’t leave all the plans for a trip costing hundreds or thousands of dollars entirely in someone else’s hands. Part of the fun of vacations lies in making plans, so get involved.
Do Some Research
Remember that travel brochures can’t cover all the attractions in the area or totally prepare you for every eventuality. Check the library or the Internet for recent articles on travel in general. All major newspapers publish regular travel columns that frequently report on common holiday problems and solutions. Prior to purchasing your travel services, consider checking the Canadian Foreign Affairs website at www.voyage.gc.ca for the latest travel reports, warnings and/or current issues in the country you plan to travel to. Also, make sure you are aware of what travel documentation will be required for each person traveling and ensure you give yourself sufficient time to obtain these documents prior to your planned departure. Look for websites with information on your destination. Many sizable cities have at least one English-language newspaper. While you’re planning your trip, pick up copies at a bookstore that specializes in foreign publications. A look at what makes news in the area can help paint a clear picture of the local culture. Don’t forget to ask your travel agent whether they have useful information about your destination.
E-Commerce and Booking Online
The Internet can be a great resource for researching information on travel. Transcending all borders – travel companies on the internet can be in locations worldwide making it difficult to determine who or even where you are purchasing your travel services from. Consumers should be aware of the risks that may be involved when making such travel purchases. If you are considering booking your travel services online, make sure you know where your money is going and that the company is a registered travel retailer in Ontario. Look for the Ontario registration number on the website. If in doubt as to whether the travel agency is registered, contact TICO for this information. In addition, ensure that you know what currency the prices are in. Ontario travel agencies that sell travel services on-line are required to follow the same disclosure requirements to a consumer on-line as they do when a booking is made in person or over the phone. These include full price disclosure and information as to what travel documentation will be required for each person traveling.
- For more tips for purchasing travel services online – click here
Booking The Trip
The Travel Industry Act, 2002 and Ontario Regulation 26/05 ensure that everyone who buys travel services from a registered Ontario travel agent is treated fairly. The law requires that accurate information is provided to consumers and sets out specific remedies for common problems. More and more travel agents charge a non-refundable travel counselling fee or service charge. Under the Regulation, those who do so are required to inform the customer before providing counseling or selling travel services. To be sure, you should find out in advance whether your travel agent charges such fees.
Travel Brochures, Advertising & Websites
All travel brochures and advertising materials must conform to a number of provisions under the regulation. The price listed in a brochure is considered to be in Canadian funds unless the material specifically states otherwise. The Travel Industry Act, 2002 and Regulation requires that media advertisements that refer to a price must state the full price of the package. The representation may show the full price or a price plus all fees, charges and taxes, etc. The only exceptions are retail sales tax or federal goods & services tax which can be added on later. Advertising must show, adjacent to the price, any conditions that affect or limit the availability of the travel services at that price. For example, if there are a limited number of departures, or the price applies only to certain dates, or there are other restrictive terms and conditions, these must be clearly shown. The ads must also make it clear which air-carrier, hotel, or travel wholesaler is involved with the trip where applicable.
All photographs appearing in the advertising must be accurate and current representations of the site. If the photograph was not taken on the site, that must be stated. Similarly, an artist’s sketch must be an accurate depiction. Statements must be included in certain promotional literature, such as brochures, to outline such issues as consumer rights, refund policies, and potential differences in living standards outside Ontario. Descriptions of accommodations must include locations. If the brochure states the hotel is “ocean front,” it must be true. The brochure must also specify if any construction or renovations are under way, along with the anticipated completion date. Before departure, the travel wholesaler must verify that the accommodation is in the condition represented in the brochure and, if the facility is still incomplete, an offer must be made of a full and prompt refund or alternative arrangements acceptable to the consumer.
There is no international standard for the rating of hotels. Each travel association, tourist board, travel guide and tour operator may have their own system, and their scales can vary significantly. Some may base a rating on a hotel’s services, facilities and amenities, while others may take into account location, the opinions expressed by previous guests, and other factors. The bottom line is that hotel ratings may be subjective. Pay attention to the quality ratings in your travel brochure. Don’t assume the hotel with four stars is the best. The tour operator may use an eight star format or even a reverse order series. If you can’t find an explanation in the brochure, ask your travel agent for clarification. Also always consider the standard of living of your destination.
Know What Travel Documentation You Need
Many countries require visitors to have passports, visas, or other documents. In some cases, international health certificates and vaccinations are needed. Ontario travel agents are required to disclose the travel documentation requirements for each travelling passenger prior to reserving your travel services. Once you have purchased the travel services your travel agent is required to provide the same information in writing on the statement, invoice or receipt. Ontario travel agents selling travel services must advise their customers of entry and exit requirements, as well as, any international health requirements. Ask your travel agent for this information and, if you need any special documents, be sure to apply as soon as possible. Information on how to obtain a Canadian passport is available from Passport Canada, an agency of Foreign Affairs Canada at www.ppt.gc.ca or by calling 1-800-567-6868. Travellers planning to drive in some foreign countries will need a special international drivers’ permit. Ask your travel agent if you need this licence or any other documents such as international proof of insurance.
Cancellation & Medical Insurance
Travel insurance is always recommended; in fact, your Ontario travel agency is required, at the time of booking, to advise you of the availability of trip cancellation insurance and out-of-province health insurance, if applicable. While nobody ever expects to cancel their vacation plans, unexpected situations can occur, and cancellation charges levied by airlines, cruise lines, hotels and tour companies can amount to as much as 100% of the purchase price. Ask your agency about out-of-province health insurance for travel outside of Canada. OHIP may only cover a portion of your expenses if you become ill or are involved in an accident. Make sure that you have adequate coverage for the country that you are planning to visit. Ensure that you carefully review the policy of any insurance before purchase.
Be aware that not all air carriers have the same baggage allowance policy and therefore it is important to check what the policy is before preparing for your trip. Weight and piece limitations can vary from one air carrier to the next. Check the air carrier’s website for their baggage policy or if you are not sure, ask your travel agent to provide you with the information. Not having the proper information could result in additional fees for additional or over-weight baggage.
It is always a good idea to put a tag with your name and contact information and, if possible, contact information at your destination on the outside of each piece of checked baggage. It is advisable to place a tag with similar information inside your bags in the event that the external tag is damaged or removed. Placing a bright coloured or distinctive identifiable strap or sticker onto your baggage will also assist you in indentifying your baggage at the baggage claim area. As well, ensure that you remove any old air carrier tags from previous flights from your baggage before you commence your journey.
Cancelling The Trip
Prior to selling travel services, your Ontario travel agent is required to bring to your attention any terms and conditions related to the purchase of travel services, including the range of penalties or non-refundable amounts or other costs associated with the cancellation of the travel services. So, be sure that you understand the terms and conditions of your booking, any insurance coverage, refund policies and penalties and ask your travel agent questions at the time of booking.
Get A Receipt
Always ensure that you receive a receipt from your travel agency, especially if you have made a cash payment. Once you have made any payments to your travel agency for travel services, the travel agent is required, by law, to promptly provide you with a receipt. The receipt should set out:
- your name and address and the name of each person on whose behalf payment is made;
- the date of the booking and the date of the first payment;
- the amount of the payment and the balance owing, if any;
- any fees, service charges, surcharges, taxes or other charges and whether those amounts are refundable or non-refundable;
- the total price of the travel services;
- the business name, address, contact information and the registration number of the travel agency;
- the name of the travel counsellor who made the booking and accepted the first payment;
- a fair and accurate description of the travel services purchased, including the name of the company supplying the travel services; the destination and the date of departure;
- Indicate whether the customer has purchased trip cancellation and out-of-province health insurance, if the travel agency sells insurance. If the travel agency does not sell insurance, indicate whether the consumer was advised of trip cancellation or out-of-province health insurance, if applicable.
- information regarding what travel documents will be needed for each person for whom the travel services are being purchased;
- whether the contract permits price increases and if so, a statement that no price increases are permitted after the customer has paid in full;
- a statement advising that the customer has the right to cancel the contract and obtain a full refund if the total price of the travel services is increased by more than 7%, except if the increase results from retail sales tax or federal goods & services tax.
Your agent must inform you, and each person on whose behalf the travel services were purchased, of any changes to these arrangements. Each change should be explained, as should the options available for changing, continuing, or canceling the trip.
It is also the responsibility of your agent to verify all information contained on your ticket(s), voucher, itinerary, information or documents, before giving it to you.
With careful planning and the travel rules in place in Ontario, disappointments should be minimized. But there are always risks when you are dealing with something as complex as travel. Keep in mind that many countries do not have the same standards of living as in Canada. Furthermore, you shouldn’t expect first-class service at economy prices or judge facilities or services against Canadian standards. Keep the state of the local economy and the country’s level of development in mind. If the country you are visiting has a different standard of living, it is possible that you may encounter minor difficulties that are sometimes unavoidable and uncontrollable. Research your destination. This will help ensure that you are prepared and have reasonable expectations. In the event that something unexpected does occur, be realistic, be positive and try not to let it adversely affect your vacation. If you do run into problems during the trip, first try to deal directly with the people responsible. Make notes and take photographs that may help prove complaints. Keep receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses for which you plan on requesting reimbursement. If you are not satisfied with the local response or response from your travel agent after you return home, a written complaint can be made to the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.
What To Do In An Emergency
If you find yourself in the middle of a catastrophe, such as a revolution, war, earthquake, or flood, go to the nearest Canadian embassy, high commission, or consulate. If there isn’t one in the country you are visiting, go to the British or American consulate. If you are stranded because your return travel arrangements have fallen through or your return ticket is invalidated because the carrier went out of business, try to make alternative arrangements yourself or call your travel agent in Ontario if you can’t resolve the situation. You may also contact the nearest Canadian embassy, high commission, or consulate. The key to coping with emergencies is keeping a cool head.
Useful Travel Related Websites
TICO (TRAVEL INDUSTRY COUNCIL OF ONTARIO)
CONSULAR SERVICES & TRAVEL ADVISORIES/REPORTS
TRAVEL HEALTH ADVISORIES
CANADA BORDER SERVICES AGENCY (CANADA CUSTOMS)
AIR TRAVEL COMPLAINTS PROGRAM (CANADIAN TRANSPORTATION AGENCY)