Q&A with TICO's Board Chair Michael Levinson
"I am confident there will be a time when a new normal is established, where confidence in safe travel will rebound and the travel industry will set new records beyond those of pre-COVID-19 days."
Q1: Please tell us a little about yourself and your industry experience. I am originally from Ottawa, born and raised and have been in Toronto for over 20 years. After graduating from Carleton University, I joined my family business in real estate and property management. I got my real estate license and focused on commercial real estate sales and leasing. I created a hotel division and founded two award-winning and Tripadvisor top-ranked suite hotels in Ottawa. I became highly involved in hotel trade organizations at the local, provincial and federal levels. This led to me creating one of the first Internet-based hotel reservation systems. Q2: Can you share with us how you developed a Hotel Reservation System? The internet was just beginning, and I realized there was an opportunity to create a solution for hotels to offer direct online access to rates and availability (which aside from the Airline GDS, didn't exist at the time). In 1995, I formed a software company and hired programmers to create an internet hotel reservations system called Bookdirect. I was early to market with this system; I even had one hotelier tell me that he thought the internet was a fad and would not last.
Q3: What do you feel are the greatest challenges facing the industry during this period of recovery? COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the industry. The travel industry was the first to be affected and will be among the very last to fully recover. The greatest challenge facing the industry is no doubt managing finances to survive until revenues pick up again. The other major challenge is navigating the ever-changing landscape of rules and regulations imposed by suppliers and jurisdictions related to travel during this time. Now, more than ever, travel agents are the best resource for travellers to turn to for guidance and bookings. I am confident there will be a time when a new normal is established, where confidence in safe travel will rebound and the travel industry will set new records beyond those of pre-COVID-19 days. Hopefully, 2022 will lay the foundation for a full recovery.
Q4: What issues are you most focused on addressing in your tenure as TICO’s Board Chair? The TICO board is committed to doing everything we can within the framework of TICO’s mandate and responsibilities to balance consumer protection with ensuring the health of the industry going forward. TICO must operate within the confines of the Travel Industry Act and its agreement with the government, which in some important areas, was created when the industry was very different than it is today. However, government has expressed an opportunity to look at TICO’s funding model, including the current fee review process and has acknowledged the need for a complete review of the Compensation Fund soon. I believe that ultimately, the existence of a strong Compensation Fund could be a competitive advantage for Ontario registrants. It is my goal to work with the Ontario government to ensure that TICO’s mandate of consumer protection reflects today’s travel landscape, while keeping transparency and responsiveness to stakeholders at the forefront. Implementing regulatory changes can be a long process, but I’m committed to being the “squeaky wheel,” consistent with TICO’s overall consumer protection mandate.