TRVL, a website that lets consumers book hotels and cash in commissions, has stopped operations in Ontario as it ran afoul of local laws that require anyone acting as a travel agent to register with the province.
The site launched in June, allowing users to sign up for free and become “TRVL agents,” enabling them to earn 10 percent commissions on hotels booked by themselves, friends and family. Users can also share a link to their site with followers looking for travel recommendations and reservations, and receive a commission on any booking they make through that link. TRVL takes a cut of the commission.
A global website based in the Netherlands, TRVL promises access to “industry rates and discounts of up to 65 percent”; commissions “of up to” 15 percent on every booking; and a “peer-to-peer travel advice service” that allows travelers to network with friends and family to create itineraries for them.
Copy on the company’s website says: “For the first time, you can earn a commission on every booking, for your travel group and others. For the first time, you can recommend and share trips and earn a commission. For the first time, you can own a travel booking website, for free, and set up shop like a TRVL agent. We're changing how millions of people book their holidays.”
Travel Industry Council claims TRVL violates Ontario laws
Shortly after TRVL launched in Canada, the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) sent the company’s founder a letter, saying his unregistered company had violated the Province’s Travel Industry Act because it essentially had unregistered staff consulting on travel.
According to local press reports, TRVL and TICO negotiated over potential solutions, including an offer from TICO to register the company with the council. They also asked TRVL to set up a branch office in the province.
TRVL’s founder Jochem Wijnands refused the offer, and disagrees with TICO’s assessment that his users consult on travel. He told the Canadian press that he believes the shutdown has more to do with protecting an industry that will not adapt to and compete with change agents like his company.
"The legacy professions hide behind certain rules that they think will give them protection," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. TICO officials say its regulations protect consumers.
According to local Canadian press reports, the message for visitors trying to access the site in Ontario currently says: "Due to restrictions set by the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, TRVL is currently not available in Ontario. We are working to resolve this issue soon."
The provincial government is reviewing the 2002 Travel Industry Act, in part to see how it fits with changes in travel reservations and home-sharing services like TRVL and Airbnb.
A story in June of this year on Nextweb.com claimed that at that time TRVL had “over 6,000 agents” worldwide and secured $2.7 million in seed funding.