TORONTO — The frustration travellers are feeling about the hours-long wait times to book quarantine hotel stays is almost as palpable as the frustration from travel agents that these hotel bookings are being handled by one company, when so many struggling agencies could benefit from the business.
It all comes down to contracts. After a 7-year stint with HRG from 2013 to 2020, the federal government’s travel account is now back with with American Express, specifically Amex Global Business Travel (Amex GBT).
“American Express Global Business Travel is the travel management company of record for the Government of Canada and we are actively supporting the Government of Canada’s mandatory hotel stopover requirement for air travellers,” Patrick Doyle, VP and GM, Canada for Amex GBT told Travelweek.
Consumer media reports of anywhere from two to 10-hour wait times facing travellers looking to make quarantine hotel bookings have surfaced since the federal government’s hotel booking info site went live on Feb. 18. Bookings can only be made by phone with Amex GBT. The hotel quarantine rule requiring anyone flying into Canada to have a pre-booked 3-night hotel stay to wait out PCR test results, went into effect Feb. 22.
The hotel quarantine program came together quickly by necessity, like everything else with the pandemic. While travellers looking to make bookings are dealing with long wait times, other far more serious issues have come up with the hotel quarantines themselves. Criminal charges were laid in recent days against an Ontario man involved in an alleged sexual assault at a Montreal airport quarantine hotel.
“DEBACLE IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT”
“The word ‘debacle’ is an understatement” when it comes to the hotel quarantine measures, says TPI President and CEO, Zeina Gedeon. “Our industry is in a shambles, it is on a lifeline. To give the hotel business to a handful of hotels, and to give the reservations to one company, is unacceptable. Instead of making sure everyone is at least getting a piece of this very small pie, the government is continuing to blunder through this.”
Patrice Malacort, General Manager, AVIAJET- ITN Travel-Voyages Canada in Ste Agathe-Des-Monts, QC, is fed up as well. “All of this appears to be an improvised last-minute operation, ignoring the professional capabilities of travel agencies and having the sole purpose of deterring Canadians from traveling abroad, for whatever reason. For travel agencies that have been in ‘hibernation’ mode for many months, this represents a real insult and a complete disregard for our industry severely affected by the pandemic,” he told Travelweek.
Malacort adds: “Not only are the clients of travel agencies forced to pay an exorbitant amount for these two or three nights of hotels, they are also forced to transact through a ‘competing’ agency. This is totally unfair and unacceptable.”
ACTA President Wendy Paradis says ACTA shares agents’ concerns. “We are hearing from some of our travel agency and travel agent members that they are concerned with the process for booking the new quarantine hotels. Although we are hoping and advocating to the government that the hotel quarantine be a short term measure, ACTA shares your concern that all travel agents are not able to serve their individual clients directly and benefit from these bookings.”
Paradis says that with the procurement and roll out of vaccines, along with effective testing and contract tracing protocols in place there is an expectation that COVID-19 spread will decrease over time. “Our #1 goal is for the government and the travel industry to work together to develop metrics and a plan to re-start the Canadian travel industry in the coming months.”
“IF THIS ISN’T A PUBLIC HEALTH SAFETY ISSUE, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS”
Meanwhile yesterday MPs in the Standing Committee on Public Safety met virtually to consider a study of the safety and security of passengers required to fulfill hotel quarantine requirements, and also home quarantine requirements.
Sexual assault, break and enter and harassment charges have been laid against an Ontario man stemming from an alleged incident at the Sheraton Montreal Airport hotel, involving a traveller from California who was staying at the hotel as part of a quarantine.
Another recent charge involved another Ontario man who worked as a private security guard for a firm contracted by the Public Health Agency of Canada to do home quarantine checks.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 all international travellers entering Canada must quarantine for 14 days.
Yesterday Shannon Stubbs, MP, Lakeland (AB) said that no matter what happens with the hotel quarantine measures, “the personal security and safety of Canadians and travellers” must be the top priority.
“There are a lot of questions that Canadians have,” added Glen Motz, MP, Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner (AB). “We have no idea how many other people may have been victims. The government is apparently unwilling to get this policy suspended… if this isn’t a public safety issue, I don’t know what is.”
Tako Van Popta, MP, Langley-Aldergove (BC), said he’s heard from many of his constituents about the poor rollout of the hotel quarantine program. “The hotel quarantine program generally has our support but it has to be done right. The development of the program and the rollout has been very inadequate.”