If you're a Canadian living in the province of Ontario, the TICO logo is surely something that you connect with travel. We see it on travel agency websites, pamphlets, and in stores. The blue, white, and green flag with “tico.ca” in bold letters in the middle is unmistakable but what does it really mean? Is it only for Ontario residents or is it much more?
As regular consumers, it's a logo that you expect to see but I think I speak for most people in saying that it's not really clear why it's a good thing and how does it help me as a traveller. “It's that travel agency thing” is kind of what I always said to myself but as I've done more research, it's more than what I thought it was for.
Think of this as a TICO for Dummies as we go through all of the important information you need to know about the organization, why you should care about it, who is covered, and how they can help when things go wrong.
Here's what we're covering:
- What is TICO?
- Why should you care about TICO?
- Everything Else You've Been Wondering But Nobody Could Answer
- Bottom Line
What is TICO?
The long-form name of TICO is Travel Industry Council of Ontario. As the name implies, this is an organization mandated by the Ontario government and focused around protecting the consumer – YOU! As Ontario's travel regulator, it was created in 1997 and is wholly financed by fees collected from Ontario travel agencies websites, and tour operators.
The best way to think about it is what would happen if there wasn't a TICO in our province. The travel industry would be the wild west. If something went wrong, you'd have nobody to turn to.
“TICO has your back” says Dorian Werda, VP of Operations for TICO
FUN FACT: Only 3 provinces in Canada have travel-related consumer protection agencies – Québec, British Columbia, and Ontario.
Why should you care about TICO?
So the real question is how does TICO have your back?
Let's start with some seriously compelling reasons how TICO protects consumers and why we should book through a registered Ontario travel agency.
#1 Not just brick and mortar – Online and Offline
If you're like me, you associate TICO with travel agents but in fact, TICO registers websites and travel agencies that have an office in Ontario. This means you can book travel online or in-person with an Ontario-registered agency and you're covered under the same protections.
#2 Regulation – A Focus On Service
A big part of TICO's mandate is to make sure that travel agencies and websites follow strict consumer protection laws. This means that there are standards that every single agency you work with has to follow.
Beyond professional expertise, there are rules that travel agents need to follow. In fact, agents need to take an exam before they get their TICO certification, which allows them to sell travel services. One of their functions is to follow the regulated booking process and invoicing. As travellers, there is consistency here which is important.
When you're finalizing your travel plans with an agent, here are a list of items that every agent needs to review with you.
- Total price including all taxes and fees
- Accurate description of travel services including dates
- Full disclosure of unique conditions that can affect your decision to book – i.e. construction at a resort, travel warnings etc.
- Service fee or consulting fees
- Fees/penalties for changes or cancelling (part of terms and conditions)
- What is non-refundable
- Advise on all travel insurance options
- Advise on travel documentation required
- Review all other terms and conditions
Here are a list of items that must be on the final invoice that's provided to you.
- Price – full fare breakdown and total price
- Fees and penalties
- Agency information including TICO registration #
- Description of travel services including departure date and supplier
- Insurance (if purchased)
- Whether the contract permits price increases and if permitted, MUST include statements
- “No price increases are permitted after the customer has paid in full”
- “If the price increase is more than 7% (except increases resulting from an increase in GST/PST/HST), the customer has the right to cancel the contract and obtain a full refund”
- Travel information
- Travel documents required for each passenger travelling with information such as type of passport, validity requirement for passport, visa, etc.
- Statements: “Entry to another country may be refused even if the required information and travel documents are complete” and ““Living standards and practices at the destination and the standards and conditions there with respect to the provision of utilities, services and accommodation may differ from those found in Canada”
- Name of agent – Who made the booking and accepted the first payment
Why this matters
- No games – When you book elsewhere, there's no requirement to follow specific rules. Agencies and travel websites can do whatever they want if they're not registered with TICO, and all of those small details that they don't bother to disclose or worse, hide, you'll be caught by surprise when things go wrong.
- You can point out when the rules aren't followed – This is the perfect segue to the next point. You are in full rights to file a complaint against a TICO registered travel agency or website if any of the above isn't met.
FUN FACT: It is actually illegal to advertise and sell travel in Ontario, Canada without TICO registration. This means that even if you take money from someone else and book travel for them through something like a Meetup group is technically illegal.
#3 Complaints – You Have Options
There are a couple of situations in which you can complain so this is probably best explained through examples.
Example 1: You've been sold something different than what was described
Let's say you're booking a 4-star all-inclusive vacation to Jamaica and the brochure describes the property as one with 2 pools. If the resort happens to shut one down for renovations and your agent doesn't disclose this change, you're protected and you can request that the agency to provide you with a choice of alternative accommodations that's acceptable to you or a refund.
The idea here is that you are within your rights to complain to the agency first by citing the regulations of the Ontario Travel Industry Act and seeing if they can resolve the situation to your satisfaction.
If not, you can file a complaint with TICO where they help you through the process and facilitate communication between you and the travel agency.
Good to know: Note that TICO can't impose a settlement or act as an arbitrator but they do make sure there is a process to follow to help solve your issue.
Example 2: Missing disclosure
During booking with an agent in person or on the phone, there are certain disclosures that need to be provided and if according to the checklists detailed in point #1. If for any reason something like insurance disclosure isn't done, proper counselling around getting visas, proper documentation or penalties aren't fully laid out to you, you can file a complaint.
Example 3: All-in pricing
All-in pricing is the law and if you discover that this isn't the case you can also file a complaint. If the advertised price is not what you are charged or paid for (not including tips and upgrades), then you can file a complaint.
Example 4: You arrive and something has changed
Another quick example is one where you arrive at a destination and to your surprise, the hotel is overbooked. You are within your rights to request that your agency provides a comparable alternative that is acceptable to you or ask for a refund.
#4 Refunds – Protection Against Closure or Bankruptcy
Not that this happens all the time but it unfortunately hits you when you least expect it so why forfeit your protection?
With TICO, there's something called a Travel Compensation Fund and here's how it works:
- If you book through a TICO registered travel agency or website, and a cruise line, airline, or travel agency/wholesaler closes or goes bankrupt, you can file a claim for a refund for travel services that you did not receive.
- If you are stranded somewhere due to failure of a TICO-registered agency, website or tour operator, TICO may help you get safely home.
Where does this fund come from? That's a good question. As part of Ontario Regulation 26/05, TICO administers this fund that's completely financed by registered travel agencies and websites, and travel wholesalers in Ontario.
FUN FACT: If you book your flight directly through the airline and they go bankrupt, you're not protected. If you book your flight through a TICO-registered agency, you are protected.
How do you file for a refund? It's actually pretty simple. All you have to do is request a claim form via mail, e-mail or calling. The only condition is that you have to file this claim within 6 months of the failure/closure.
#5 EH? You don't even need to live in Ontario!
As long as you have booked through an agency or website that is TICO registered, you're afforded all the rights that I've gone through so far. It almost sounds too good to be true but it is!
Recently, a large agency named Sinorama Holidays in Ontario closed its doors and there were many travellers from the US that booked through them. All consumers are eligible to file claims with TICO since Sinorama Holidays was a registered travel agency. However, if those travellers booked through a non-TICO registered agency, let's say in the US, they would be out of luck to try to get anything back.
Everything Else You've Been Wondering But Nobody Could Answer
Here are a few other things that I haven't covered yet but I think are good questions to know the answer to.
What about other closures? When it comes to closure and bankruptcy, the Travel Compensation Fund only kicks in for specifically airlines, cruises, and travel agencies, websites, and/or tour operators. Here's the kicker. If you booked travel through a TICO-registered agency or website and they booked your trip with a provider that goes down, you can call the agency and they will do what they can to help you. However, if you book directly with an airline or cruise ship, you are not covered under the Fund. The key here is that airlines and cruise ships are not registered with TICO.
How is TICO different from travel insurance? This is a fair question but the primary answer here is that TICO is not a replacement for travel insurance. If you're looking for medical, cancellation, baggage delay, carrier delay, health, extreme sports coverage, you'll need to purchase travel insurance.
So who amongst the big online players are registered TICO? If you want to know which travel agencies and websites are registered with TICO, you can check the TICO directory. There are more TICO registered agencies and websites than you think!
With so many websites out there, it's easy to think that booking with any one will do because that's how we've been doing it for so long but now that you know more about how TICO works, you'd be silly not to book with a TICO-registered travel agency or website.
It all comes down to Professionalism, Disclosure, and Protection.
Professionalism – Dealing with agents that have experience and are also TICO-certified.
Disclosure – If there's anything that you can take away from this article, it's that travel agents MUST disclose a mandatory list of items to you. If they don't, file a complaint.
Protection – Closures by cruises, travel agencies, websites, and airlines is a traveller's worst nightmare. TICO has your back when this happens.
FUN FACT: Primera Air closed on October 1, 2018 and for those that were stranded, if they booked through a TICO agency or website, they could file a claim for a refund from the Compensation Fund for the return portion of the original Primera Air ticket.
I would love to hear from you – do you have a story to share about your experiences with TICO or simply a great story around why we should still use travel agents? Drop a comment below!