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So you want to be a Juggler?

By on May 10, 2012

Meeting Planner, Event Planner, Convenor, Coordinator, Specialist, Manager, Director, Expert.  Call us what you will, the bottom line is that we are all about making someone else’s experience the best it can be for the best price possible.

In the big picture of things, we are in a fairly new industry and we have grown remarkably over the past 25 years.  Not just in numbers, (although there are literally hundreds of thousands of people across the world who consider themselves planners at some level) but also in professional development, adaptability, innovation, creativity, negotiating and countless other qualities that make us a force to be reckoned with.

We’ve been called glorified secretaries, micro managers, control freaks and more often than not, “Mother”.   People tell us they plan their family parties and that anyone could do our job.  We work ridiculous hours that can sometimes bring an hourly rate down to below minimum wage and we can often be heard saying things like, “There has to be a better way to make a living”.

That’s just lip service though, since if there was a better way we’d all be doing it.  True, we love to take care of other people, so we could all be in the medical field.   We could be executives and run companies (some of us already do that), or fly planes or do anything we want, we are that resourceful.  But we all chose the same career path and here we are.

We can travel the world on someone else’s dime and we are lucky enough to be hosted by some of the most beautiful cities in Canada and across the border on junkets designed to keep our business.   We work with incredibly talented and creative people, we know how to turn a boring ballroom space into anywhere with any theme.  We can bring the rain forest to convention centres, create show flows that really flow and bring 15,000 people together into a crazy city and not lose one single person or piece of luggage.  In short, we rock.

Such accolades come with a fair share of road blocks though, especially for the independent planner, who regularly encounters challenges that would shake much bigger industry stakeholders.  Errors and Omissions insurance hit the planner news a few years ago and brokers jumped on board to either embrace it or say it wasn’t really necessary, depending on the type of events being planned.  Still, most independents decided it was better to be safe than sued and paid high fees to cover themselves.  However, that is small fry compared to the most recent scare, that meeting planners might be subject to the Ontario government’s ruling that “All travel retailers and travel wholesalers selling travel services from a location in the Province of Ontario are required to be registered under the Travel Industry Act, 2002 with TICO”.

The Travel Industry Act, 2002 defines a travel service to mean “transportation, sleeping accommodations or other services for the use of a traveller, tourist or sightseer”.   In a nutshell, anyone who works independently to book flights or hotel accommodation for another person is required to be licensed.  Whilst most planners do use bona fide travel agents for flight reservations, there may well be some who book flights for clients on a regular basis.  Without a license, there was serious concern that they might be breaking the law.

The initial fee to apply for a TICO registration can be as much as $13,000, including a $10,000 security deposit which is held by the Ontario government for two years, during which time the agent must renew the registration annually.  A TICO Education Standard certificate is required and a minimum $5,000 working capital in the bank at all times.  Not a lot of independents that I know have $18,000 squirreled away that cannot be touched for two years.  So it was a great relief to hear just the other day that TICO and the Business Events Industry Coalition of Canada (BEICC) are going to work on some guidelines which will absolve independent planners from becoming TICO certified.  As you might imagine, there are conditions to the new rulings, which include quite a few things that some planners may have to stop doing.

  • Planners cannot pay for accommodation and travel services on behalf of the client, they can only act as a consultant in an advisory capacity;
  • Planners cannot advertise anywhere, including on their websites, that they provide accommodation and travel services;
  • Planners cannot sign hotel or travel (all inclusive etc) contracts or booking agreements;
  • Planners may still collect a commission from a hotel for recommendation services, however many hotels require the planner to have a TIDS or IATA certification;
  • All terms and conditions must be disclosed so that the client knows exactly what he is buying and the disclosure must rest with the client.

Planners who wish to continue to operate under the guise of travel agent as outlined above, must still register for TICO.

TIDS and IATA cards can be applied for on the IATA website, there are fees involved and IATA also have a certification that planners can take http://www.iata.org/ps/accreditation-travel/tids/Pages/index.aspx.  Most Canadians do not need more than a TIDS card to be able to take a commission from a hotel.

Huge thanks to Rita Plaskett, CMP, CMM and Helen Van Dongen, CMP, CMM, for bringing this information to our attention.

MPI and CANSPEP both worked very hard to try to find a way for the 10 year old Act to accommodate planners, so watch this space.  What is surprising though is that it has only recently occurred to planners that the TICO Act might apply to them.   Most of us are aware and respect that a travel agent’s licence is required to book travel for clients, however the overnight accommodation rule is something many of us were not aware of.  People who work for corporations and associations in a planner capacity are not subject to the certification, as they are only managing their colleagues travel and accommodations.

Regulations are also enforced in Quebec and British Columbia and it is recommended that planners in these provinces familiarize themselves with the laws to see if they might apply to them.  British Columbia for instance, does not give licences to people working from home, or so it would appear from the information given by BC Consumer Protection http://www.consumerprotectionbc.ca/component/content/43?task=view.  The province of Quebec also covers the sector through its Consumer Protection Office (opc.gouv.qc.ca).

The Planner would welcome any information or experience from planners who have encountered any issues in recent times, with any of these regulatory bodies.  Anonymity will be assured on request.

So, do you still want to be a Meeting Planner?  Of course you do – just don’t sign on the dotted line!

 


 

Jyl Ashton Cunningham CMP is a regular contributor to The Planner and welcomes your comments on her articles.  She can be reached at info@jaacevents.com.

 

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