Canada’s Anti-Spam Law Worries Agents

by Judy Jacobs
 Canada’s Anti-Spam Law Worries Agents

When Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation takes effect on July 1, it could have severe consequences for the nation’s travel professionals.

Canadian travel agents told Travel Market Report that they fear the heavy costs of the new law – both in terms of the expense involved to comply and the real threat of losing lawful email access to large portions of their customer base.

And that’s not even touching on worries over fines for noncompliance.

Strict laws
Enacted in December 2010, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is said to be the strictest legislation of its type in the world.

Meant to protect consumers from unwanted electronic messages, it will impact dramatically the ability of businesses to communicate with customers and potential customers.

Though the law is complex, it essentially requires businesses to make all commercial electronic communications, including emails and e-newsletters, opt-in communications.

What this means is that a travel agency or travel agent must obtain the permission of every person to whom it sends what the Canadian government is calling commercial electronic messages (CEM). Businesses also must keep a record of when and how consent was obtained.

The fines for running afoul of the law range as high as $1 million for individuals and $10 million for corporations.

‘An incredible undertaking’
The task of obtaining customer consent for email and other electronic communications can be daunting.
 
“We have about 100,000 active email [addresses] that we email to. To go to 100,000 people and try to get their attention is an incredible undertaking. It could cost $300,000 to $500,000 to contact all these people,” said Sanjay Goel, president, Cruise Connection.

“The fear of the penalty is going to be substantial. Any of these types of penalties could spell the end of a company. It’s frightening for us,” Goel said.

Lost in a sea of consent requests
It’s not just the cost that’s worrisome. Agents also fear that large numbers of their customers won’t take the time to opt in to an agency’s email communications. When no consent is received, all future electronic communications with customers and potential customers are a breach of the law.

“We share the same concern as many other brands emailing Canadian consumers – we fear losing more than half of the email subscribers that we’ve spent years acquiring,” said Luisa Pannozzi, marketing communication manager for Merit Travel Group.

“It’s not because they don’t necessarily want to hear from us. Instead, in an environment that is already cluttered, we will simply be lost in a sea of emails.

“Canadians will, without a doubt, begin to be inundated with emails requesting their re-consents from hundreds of other brands, once these brands begin complying with this new legislation,” Pannozzi said.

When junk mail is good
Richard Vanderlubbe, president of tripcentral.ca, echoed her point, while pointing out that not all email marketing is bad.

“While no one likes junk mail, it works, just like telemarketing. It works because of the very low cost and the equally low intrusion on the recipient. It can be filtered, deleted or just ignored – but every once in a while a subject line catches your attention when you are in the market.  

“It can also stimulate unexpected need,” said Vanderlubbe. He recalled a time when, as a consumer, he purchased tickets to hear a speaker only after learning of the event by email.

“If I hadn’t received the email, I would never have bought it and enjoyed it. But if I receive a whole bunch of emails looking for express consent to stay on the list, I’m not sure I would have taken the time to do it,” Vanderlubbe said.

Tough for small agencies
David McCaig, president and COO of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, said many agents are “unsure of how to prepare” for the new law; others may not have the resources.

Smaller agencies are especially challenged, he said. “Most smaller agencies are at a disadvantage because they don’t have lawyers on retainer, or they can’t afford one.

“Without agencies knowing how to prepare, how can they possibly comply with this new law?” McCaig asked. “The average small business wants to be compliant, they just don’t know where to start.

“Second, there are time resources and budget associated with becoming compliant. Small businesses can be challenged to have their technology updated and ready for July 1,” McCaig said.

Advice for agents
McCaig urged agents to “get up to speed” on the anti-spam law and make the effort to understand and then acquire customer consent for their electronic communications. “That’s the first step; you have to give an effort,” McCaig said.

He added that “while the new law has been established to target egregious spammers of phishing and malware email, it is essential for every ACTA member to understand how these new regulations will affect their business and do their best to comply.

“After July 1, those who do not have consent [from customers] will not be able to get it through electronic means,” McCaig noted.

Some are prepared
Some travel sellers are less concerned about the new law.

“We are not worried about the legislation for two reasons,” said Stephen Smith, vice president, marketing & communications, Vision Travel solutions. “First, we have always taken the approach that we do not want to solicit our clients, via email or any other form of commercial electronic messaging, without their consent, as it will erode their trust in us as their travel partner.

“Second, we were aware of it [the law] in January of 2013, and we adjusted our approach to CEMs at that time, where we saw it was required. Having said this, we understand the importance of the legislation and are paying close attention to our CEM activities,” Smith said.

Advantage: brick & mortar
Pannozzi of Merit Travel Group commented that travel agents who have strong customer relations will fare better than those who don’t under the new law.

“Those who have close relationships with their clients – which is easier for agencies with bricks and mortar locations – I believe will have an advantage. This is because they have live agents who have built a relationship with a customer, not a transaction, making loyalty a little easier to achieve,” said Pannozzi, who commented that achieving brand loyalty is a central challenge for the travel industry.

For his part, Vanderlubbe said he fears that compliance with the law may not work to one’s advantage in the marketplace.

“My worry is that law-abiding companies do everything right, but others don’t, and these rogues have competitive advantage. It took some time for compliance with the all-in pricing requirements [for airfare advertising] and there seems to be no reward for being compliant on time,” he said.

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