COVID-19 – information for consumers who have booked travel with an Ontario travel agency, website or tour operator

UPDATED: April 27, 2020

Please note: the COVID-19 pandemic is changing rapidly. The information below is provided as a guideline and may evolve quickly, so please check back often.

The province of Ontario has ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, effective March 25, 2020. Businesses that have the capabilities to work remotely may do so. Please keep in mind that if you are trying to reach an Ontario travel agency or tour operator, they may be temporarily closed or operating remotely with limited capacity.

In Ontario, all travel agencies, websites and tour operators are regulated under the Travel Industry Act, 2002, which is enforced by the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO). Please note that any protections only apply to customers who purchased travel services through a TICO-registered travel agency or tour operator

1. I’m being offered a voucher for future travel instead of a refund. Is that allowed?

When you book travel, your invoice is your contract between you and the travel company. The invoice must include all the terms and conditions of your travel. The types of options available will depend on the type of travel you purchased:

  • If you booked a package with a number of travel services bundled together (e.g., flight, cruise, accommodations and/or ground transportation) – The travel services were advertised and sold for a single price (the travel agency did not combine services such as a flight and hotel at your request) and if one of those services is no longer available, such as the air component, the travel supplier, travel agency or tour operator may offer a voucher or similar document.
    • If the voucher or similar document was issued by a TICO-registered travel agency or tour operator before March 30, 2020, it must be of equivalent value to the travel services not provided and redeemable for a reasonable time frame (e.g., minimum of one year).
    • If the voucher or similar document was issued by a TICO-registered travel agency or tour operator on or after March 30, 2020, it must be of equivalent value to the travel services not provided and redeemable for at least one year following the date of issue. The travel can happen beyond the one-year mark.
  • If you booked travel services that are not part of a package – If you purchased one or more travel services that are not part of a pre-bundled package (e.g., airline and cruise) advertised and sold for one price and those services are impacted by COVID-19, you are subject to the terms and conditions in effect from those travel suppliers. Some suppliers may choose to issue a voucher or other similar document to their customers. TICO does not have jurisdiction over end-suppliers, such as airlines, hotels and cruise lines.

In addition to the terms and conditions from suppliers, you are also subject to the terms and conditions of either the retail travel agency and/or tour operator from whom you purchased your travel services from. These terms and conditions would need to have been disclosed to you at the time of booking and included on the invoice provided to you by the agency and/or tour operator. Customers are encouraged to contact their registered travel agency to discuss their options.

2. TICO’s Consumer Complaints Process

We understand that consumers have been requesting refunds from registered Ontario travel agencies/websites and tour operators for the non-provision of travel services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although TICO believes that vouchers for future travel are a reasonable form of reimbursement depending on the particular situation, should consumers remain dissatisfied with the form of reimbursement being offered after attempting to resolve the matter with their travel agent, consumers may file a complaint with TICO. TICO’s Complaints process addresses complaints against Ontario travel agencies and tour operators and its role includes to facilitate the flow of information between the consumer and the travel company to assist in resolving a dispute.

You may contact TICO for information or assistance in filing a complaint against a registrant. Click here for more information on TICO’s complaint handling process. Alternatively you may send an email to tico@tico.ca or call 1-888-451-8426 (TICO).

3. If you booked airfare directly with an airline regulated by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA)

Please note that TICO does not have jurisdiction over airlines, which are federally regulated. Click here for the CTA’s statement on vouchers.

For issues involving air only bookings, please refer to the CTA’s website for information on air passenger rights and the CTA’s Air Travel Complaints process.

Speaking with your TICO-registered travel agency is your best course of action for understanding your options, especially in a fluid environment where suppliers may be announcing new measures daily. Please keep in mind the current closure of non-essential businesses may impact your ability to reach your travel agency. Individuals who are unable to get through to their travel agency or tour operator may contact TICO to help facilitate the dialogue.

4. Do I have any protection if the company that issued my travel voucher goes out of business?

If you are unable to redeem a voucher or similar document issued by a TICO-registered travel agency or tour operator for future travel services because the TICO-registered travel agency or tour operator has become bankrupt or insolvent or ceased to carry on business and that failure is related to COVID-19, you can make a claim against the Travel Industry Compensation Fund until March 31, 2022.

Coverage under the Travel Industry Compensation Fund has expanded. If you have redeemed a voucher or similar document but the TICO-registered travel agency or tour operator or airline or cruise line becomes bankrupt or ceases operations prior to travel taking place, and travel services are not provided, you can make a Travel Industry Compensation Fund claim, subject to the provisions of the Regulation.

More information about the Travel Industry Compensation Fund can be found here.

5. What if I am unable to secure arrangements to get back to Canada?

Canadians who are currently abroad and unable to secure travel arrangements to return to Canada may be eligible for the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad. With this program, Canadians abroad directly impacted by COVID-19 will have the option of applying for an emergency loan of up to $5,000 to help secure their timely return to Canada and to temporarily cover their life-sustaining needs while they work toward their return.

The Government of Canada will also provide additional support to Canadians directly affected by COVID-19 and unable to immediately return home. Canadians needing help to return home can contact the nearest Government of Canada office or Global Affairs Canada’s 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted where available) or email sos@international.gc.ca.

6. What if I can’t get through to my travel agency, website or tour operator?

Many customers are experiencing long wait times due to the sheer volume of calls, questions and requests. The closure of non-essential businesses in Ontario may further impact availability and wait times.

If your departure is not imminent, please consider waiting to call as requests are being processed based on the date of departure. These circumstances are unprecedented and travel companies appreciate your patience as they work to assist you as quickly as possible. Additionally, some companies have posted online forms to help expedite the process. Individuals who are unable to get through to their travel agency or tour operator may contact TICO to help facilitate the dialogue.

7. What if my travel agency, website or tour operator is charging a fee to rebook or cancel?

While customers are subject to the terms and conditions of their travel bookings (e.g., 100% non-refundable), during this unprecedented situation, many travel companies are offering options for cancellations and rebookings. TICO has received complaints that some companies are charging a rebooking or cancellation fee.

Recognizing differences in invoicing and disclosure practices by travel agencies, customers should carefully review the terms and conditions reflected on their invoice pertaining to fees. If you remain concerned, please speak with your agency and/or contact TICO.

8. What other options do I have for cancelling or rebooking my travel plans?

If you have travel insurance, either as a standalone package, through your group benefits or through a credit card, contact the provider to see if you are covered. Each insurance policy is unique and may offer different levels of coverage.

9. What if I have an upcoming flight booked?

As the COVID-19/novel coronavirus situation is constantly evolving, your best course of action is to speak to your travel agent, who will have the latest information from airlines and other travel suppliers.  Changes from airlines continue to be announced regularly.

Many airlines have been offering existing customers the ability to rebook at no additional cost.

If you purchased your airfare through a TICO-registered travel agency or website, and the time of your scheduled flight is advanced or delayed by more than 24 hours, you may be entitled to a full refund or comparable alternate service. This also applies to other forms of transportation, such as train or bus tickets, cruises, etc.

However, this rule does not apply if the delay or advancement is due to mechanical problems with a vehicle, ship or aircraft, safety considerations, weather conditions, a strike or lock-out or a force majeure (such as an unforeseen circumstance).

The impact of the COVID-19/novel coronavirus may be viewed as a safety or force majeure event, depending on the specific circumstances.

If you booked your tour with a TICO-registered travel agency or website, your travel agent is required, by law, to alert you of any changes to your travel plans that would have affected your decision to buy the tour in the first place.

Much like the airlines, many tour operators have opted to cancel or suspend tours or have offered customers the option to rebook at no additional cost. Please keep in mind that these are goodwill gestures, as travel suppliers are not obligated to offer these options.

Additional resources

When you book your travel with a TICO-registered travel agency or website, know that you’re not alone. Navigating a worldwide health concern, with suppliers that can be located internationally, can be complicated, but your travel agent is well-equipped to answer your questions and provide the advice you need to understand your options.

To verify if a travel agency, website or tour operator is TICO registered, check our online directory. For more travel tips and information, visit TICO’s Smart Traveller Guide.

 TICO is operating remotely, but we’re here to assist you. For more information, please click here.

Any questions can be directed to TICO’s complaints team at tico@tico.ca or 1-888-451-TICO (8426).