Richmond MLA Teresa Wat is throwing her support behind 68 travel agencies and tour operators – most based in Richmond – who are pressing the provincial government to waive their license renewal fees since they are experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel agents typically have to pay about $776 to renew their annual licenses, according to guidelines from the website of Consumer Protection of B.C. (CPBC), a provincial regulator that licenses and inspects regulated businesses. Travel agencies are required to be licensed with CPBC, which also "investigates alleged violations of consumer protection laws and educates consumers and businesses about their rights and responsibilities," notes the website.
"They have had almost zero income throughout the past year, but they still need to pay for their annual license renewal fees and rental costs. They are desperately in need of any government assistance to survive," said Wat, the Liberal MLA for Richmond North.
Charles Chang, general manager of Formosa Travel Ltd. and one of the travel agencies listed on the petition, said he understands that getting rid of the $700 bill won’t save a dying travel agency, but at least it would show the government cares about tourism-related businesses.
“I know most people might say ‘cry me a river’ in response to the $776 annual license renewal fees. However, both the Quebec and Ontario governments have already scrapped the renewal fees,” said Chang, adding that he hopes the provincial government could do more.
The Ministry of Tourism notes that a grant program is currently available to eligible businesses, and provides a non-repayable grant of up to $30,000. An extra $5,000 to $15,000 is available for businesses in the tourism sector. Other provinces such as Alberta and Ontario also offer grants to small and medium-sized businesses, but only up to $20,000, according a reply from the ministry.
“We know businesses have many operating costs during this difficult time. That’s why our government established the Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant and worked with the Tourism Task Force and the tourism sector to improve and expand the program,” read the statement, adding that they are making sure businesses can get through this pandemic and be part of a strong recovery.
However, Chang said the recovery grant application process is extremely challenging. For example, it requires owners to report what percentage of revenue was lost in specific months. It also asks for a comprehensive recovery proposal.
Wat claims some business owners, such as the owner of the Richmond Night Market, have applied but have yet to hear back. She stressed that the government should do more to assist those businesses.