Canada's Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA Canada) raised concerns about reports in the media following interviews with Canada's Federal Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken. After fining Bell Canada $10 million for misleading consumers in ads on its web site, despite voluminous fine print clarifying the offers, the Competition Bureau said that was insufficient in disclosing the all-inclusive price for the service bundles promoted.
The press and legal experts are predicting that the bureau's finding in the Bell Canada case is going to be a game changer for any "consumer-facing industry", and ARTA Canada believes that the travel industry, already a major fine print advertiser and Internet promoter, may be one of the businesses directly in the crosshairs of the Bureau. Commission Aitken is purported to be aggressive in pursuing cases where fine print or "asterisks" are inconsistent with the overall general impression created by an advertised price, ARTA Canada said.
"We have already received concerns from some of our members that their online and print travel promotions seem to fall in line with the Bureau's objections, and cruises, tours, and air travel are among several travel components where fine print looms large. We are an industry which, for better or for worse, has adopted an above the price line (base cost) pricing regime, keeping taxes, fees, and surcharges below the price line", said ARTA Canada Bruce Bishins.
ARTA Canada said it believes that the travel industry needs to clarify and assess the Bureau's intentions in pursuing a "Bell Canada-like" assault on not only end-suppliers, but also travel agencies, tour operators, and consolidators.
"The ramifications here are significant. Québec has already legislated all-inclusive pricing, and the U.S. is poised to further toughen existing all-in pricing on the Internet. I don't think we need a shootout at high noon to tell us that there's a new sheriff in town and that the travel industry needs a national dialogue on finding a way forward with crystal clear price transparency. The answer may be in moving all but actual taxes above the price line," added Bishins.
ARTA Canada said will reach out to key industry providers to determine if there is an appetite to discuss the matter and find some legal common ground. In the meantime, ARTA Canada is recommending to travel agents, both online and those which market in print advertising, to be extremely cautious in price statements and disclosures.