TORONTO — Reaction to the ramped up travel advisory was fast and often furious as industry groups and executives questioned the need for an advisory at this stage of the pandemic and with Canada’s successful vaccination efforts, and amid conflicting reports about the threat level posed by the omicron variant.
There was also clear frustration and disbelief as the advisory now threatens the travel industry’s small steps to recovery, just shy of two months after the original advisory was lifted.
As reported yesterday, the federal government has reinstated the travel advisory against all non-essential travel. The blanket travel advisory will be in place for the next four weeks, and will then be reassessed.
“To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly, now is not the time to travel,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos yesterday.
The original advisory lifted less than eight weeks ago, as case counts declined and as Canadians far surpassed the 80% mark for full vaccinations. Measures have also been put in place to ensure that all travellers are fully vaccinated.
When the original travel advisory lifted on Oct. 20, 2021, it had been in place for more than 20 months.
The blanket travel advisory devastated the travel industry and recovery was just starting to get underway. Meanwhile Bill C-2, which promises additional financial aid to hardest hit sectors including travel and tourism, has not yet passed, and also does not provide support for independent travel agents.
The ramped up advisory is even having divisive implications amongst members of the federal political parties. While Liberal and NDP MPs have been told not to travel over the holidays, Conservative MPs have been given the green light. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s office said there is no international travel ban in place and the advisory is meant only to help those who are vaccinated make informed decisions about their travel plans.
Consumer media outlets are weighing in too. “Don’t travel lest you spread the mildest COVID yet,” read a headline in the National Post.
“COMES AS A SHOCK TO OUR INDUSTRY”
G Adventures’ David Green, managing director for Canada, said that while all caution must be taken in the interests of public health, recent headlines indicate that boosters are effective against the omicron variant and the symptoms are mild.
“As such, today’s announcement that the federal government is reinstating the non-essential travel advisory has come as a shock to our industry, which was starting to recover after a successful Black Friday and Cyber Sale period. January traditionally sets agents up for the year ahead with strong sales, but they now face more disruption and turmoil,” he said.
“Not only is this a setback to our industry as a whole, but it’s a major frustration for travel agents who will now be inundated with calls from panicked travellers looking to cancel or rebook their holidays, when they should be enjoying a well-earned break before heading into their peak selling period in January.”
Green urged agents “not to give up hope over the next four weeks when we hope this decision will be reversed. G Adventures continues to promote our Book With Confidence Policy which enables travellers to cancel and rebook up to 14 days before departure. We need to all keep fighting for bookings to continue changing peoples’ lives through travel.”
ACTA SAYS ADVISORY HIGHLIGHTS URGENT NEED FOR INDUSTRY SUPPORT
ACTA released a statement immediately following the reinstatement of the Level 3 Travel Advisory.
ACTA said it is urging the federal government to 1. Ensure border measures and travel advisories are communicated clearly and quickly on one website so travel agents/advisors and travellers can easily understand their implications; 2. Ensure that government agencies, airports, and airlines engage measures in a consistent manner to reduce confusion and promote equity; and 3. Work with stakeholders in a meaningful way on the development and implementation of border measures and travel advisories.
Border measures and travel advisories have significant economic impact on travel and tourism businesses, notes ACTA, adding that the new global advisory “will have a devastating impact on travel agencies and independent travel agents, who were relying on holiday and winter travel revenue to sustain their business.
It’s critical for the advisory to be eased as soon as possible, following the best-available science.
“Today’s actions highlight the urgent need to provide financial support to travel agencies, furloughed employees, and independent travel agents,” said ACTA.
“We urge all Members of Parliament to pass Bill C-2 this week so the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program is available to travel agencies immediately. We further urge the federal government to implement a CRB-type financial support program for travel agency furloughed employees and independent travel agents, who were excluded from Bill C-2 and are facing a long winter with sustained revenue losses.”
The Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable, which includes ACTA, was also swift in its reaction against the newly reinstated advisory: “Travel bans and border restrictions are ineffective tools to halt omicron as the variant has already taken hold in Canada. Introducing additional and overly restrictive travel measures at this time is not rooted in science, does little to stop the spread of the omicron variant in Canada and creates an enormous amount of harm to an industry already on its knees. Closing borders and preventing travel is simply not the solution.”
SHOW CANADIANS THE DATA, SAYS WESTJET
WestJet also voiced its strong opposition to the ramped up travel advisory, saying the targeted advice outlined in Duclos’ announcement is not based on science and data and significantly undermines aviation’s proven safety record in response to COVID-19.
These measures are a setback in Canada’s progress and its successful transition from relying on blanket advisories and policies, said The WestJet Group in a statement.
“Air travel is the most tested and protected consumer activity in Canada, every person travelling internationally is tested on average twice throughout their travel journey,” added Harry Taylor, WestJet President and CEO. “As the only fully-vaccinated air travel sector in the world, WestJet is calling on the government to publicly share the travel related COVID-19 data that has been used to re-impose the advisory and advice targeted towards fully-vaccinated Canadians and the travel and tourism industry.”
International travel standards and policies should be harmonized, yet Canada’s travel measures remain firmly out of step with border policies enacted across the EU, the UK and the U.S., said Taylor. The advisory also contradicts WHO’s guidance that states blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of COVID-19 and adversely affect lives and livelihoods.
Taylor said the federal government should continue to focus on vaccinations and testing, as the pathway for safe and fully-vaccinated international air travel must be preserved.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, we have safely flown more than seven million guests and air travel has been commended for its commitment to safety. Fully-vaccinated Canadians should not be singled-out for choosing to take part in a safe activity,” noted Taylor. “Travel bans, restrictions and blanket advisories are devastating to the continued economic recovery of our country and place tens of thousands of recently recalled Canadian travel and tourism jobs at risk. We are very concerned today’s announcement will create unnecessary disruption and chaos in advance of the holiday travel season.”
With file from The Canadian Press