Federal communications budget for eTAs 'inadequate,' says tourism group

A national tourism organization wants Canadians to tell friends and family who plan to visit about a new requirement to enter the country as complaints about the electronic travel authorization (eTA) continue to mount.

Couple who heard about eTA too late still waiting for government response to their application 18 days later

Millions of people traveling to Canada now require an electronic travel authorization (eTA) before being permitted to board their flight. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Ottawa did not effectively communicate a new requirement to enter Canada that's become a source of confusion and frustration for travellers coming from abroad, says a national tourism organization.

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada is urging Canadians to tell friends and family who plan to visit the country about the electronic travel authorization (eTA) in hopes of avoiding more confusion.

Charlotte Bell, the association's CEO, said there are significant challenges to communicating a major change in a country's visa policy to millions of potential travellers from across the globe.

"As such it's fair to say that you can never overcommunicate something like this," Bell said in an email to CBC News. 

"In retrospect, the government's communications budget was inadequate to accomplish the task."

Measure mandatory as of Nov. 9

Stories of travellers to Canada being denied boarding passes and complaints about the eTAs have emerged since the new security measure was introduced last March 15. A six-month leniency period ended Nov. 9.

Now tourism organizations are worried about the impact the eTA could have on their industry.

Canadians should advise potential visitors to "get their eTA as soon as possible," said Bell. 

An approved eTA is now required for travellers from Australia, France, the U.K. and more than 50 other countries in order to board a plane to Canada. American citizens as well as people from countries that require a visa are exempted.

Millions of potential travellers affected

The measure is part of the Canada Border Services Agency's new electronic information system. The federal government said it is meant to screen people before they arrive in the country.

Bell said airlines, travel agencies, airports, hotels, destination and provincial marketers ‎have undertaken advertising and promotions to raise awareness among their existing and prospective clientele and contacts.

Electronic travel authorizations came into effect in November. (Bloomberg News)

Tourism Nova Scotia has also been doing its part.

The provincial Crown corporation has been "sharing information about this change to potential visitors and industry partners," according to spokeswoman Kelli MacDonald, who said the information has been posted online.

More than 6 million eTAs issued

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokeswoman Lindsay Wemp told CBC News in an email that "since the eTA application went live on Aug. 1, 2015, more than 2.5 milllion eTAs have been issued with the vast majority being issued within minutes of the application being submitted."

Wemp said the government has been "continuously" reminding travellers to ensure they have the proper documentation in place before booking a flight to Canada.

"The government of Canada has been doing everything it can to raise awareness of the new travel document requirement," she said.

Wemp added the department has been heavily advertising the eTA requirement, including digital ads in Canada, the U.K., France, Australia and Hong Kong. 

There have been close to 6.6 million visits to the government's eTA website since August 2015, she said.

18 days after applying, still no response

CBC News received a number of complaints after it published a story earlier this week about eTAs.

Guelph, Ont., resident Robert Maier told CBC News in an email about two relatives in their mid-70s who were unable to travel to his daughter's wedding in Toronto because of confusion around the eTA, which they knew nothing about until they tried to board their flight in Manchester, England.

To date, 18 days later, they still have not had a reply from the Canadian government on their status.- Robert Maier

They applied online before boarding a plane to Frankfurt where they waited two days at the airport for approval that never arrived. 

"They eventually returned to Manchester and have refiled an application for the required eTA and for an additional travelling visa," Maier said.

"To date, 18 days later, they still have not had a reply from the Canadian government on their status."

Confusion over requirement

Toronto resident Klim Barabash's parents were denied boarding in Vienna as they were immigrating from Israel to Canada because they did not have an eTA.

"They were travelling with their confirmation of permanent residency letter and according to [Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's] website they do not need [an] eTA," he said in an email.

Klim Barabash said a superintendent with the Canada Border Services Agency at Toronto's Pearson airport told him the eTA is a requirement. (CBC)

Barabash said he spoke with a superintendent with the Canada Border Services Agency at Pearson airport and was told regardless of what it says on the federal department's website — eTA is a requirement.

The couple finally did get an eTA but had to rebook their flights for the next day "adding another stopover and paying more than the original tickets for the tickets," said Barabash.

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.