TORONTO — In a typical year, Louie Di Tacchio usually finds himself at this time fielding multiple calls from clients for destination weddings. But due to the global pandemic, the owner of Progress Travel Plus in Ajax, Ont., hasn’t seen any traction at all for weddings abroad.
This, of course, is not surprising considering Canada’s ongoing travel restrictions, regarded to be among the most stringent in the world, and the absence of winter sun flights from Canada until April 30, a directive announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in January for all four of Canada’s top airlines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In recent days, both Sunwing and WestJet have extended their pause in sun operations, until June 23 and June 4, respectively.
With no flights, mandatory pre-arrival COVID-19 testing and a three-day quarantine rule that continues to devastate Canada’s travel industry, it’s no wonder couples have put the brakes on any wedding plans for the time being.
“The biggest challenge we are facing while planning a wedding during today’s pandemic is having guests commit because they want to know if their money will be refunded should something happen due to COVID,” says Di Tacchio. “They do not want to tie up funds knowing they will only receive a voucher as they did in the past. This is why flexibility to change dates or cancel is a top priority now.”
Valerie Murphy, a travel advisor with Vision Travel Solutions in Cambridge, ON, is seeing similar concerns from her clients. While she has had a few wedding inquiries this year, she says the biggest stumbling block for her has been brides and their families being reluctant to ask friends and family to put money down on a trip that may end up being cancelled at a later date, at which point suppliers will only provide future travel credits – not refunds.
“I understand why suppliers aren’t refunding but this is the biggest issue. People don’t want to ask their friends and family to spend money on a trip that may or may not happen and then have a future travel voucher that they may not use,” says Murphy. “A lot of times with wedding groups, there are people going who rarely or never travel, so the future travel voucher is of no use to them. They were only going to travel for that specific wedding.”
What would help, adds Murphy, is if the federal government provided some kind of “roadmap,” or an estimated time for the restart of travel, without any of the current restrictions. If this was possible, “I think we could secure more of these bookings,” she says.
Canada’s destination weddings market, like all segments in travel, has been tremendously impacted by the global pandemic. Speaking exclusively with Travelweek, Liz Scull, General Manager, Canada for the Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA) says that Canadian members are reporting as much as a 90% dip in immediate bookings. With Canada’s quarantine rules still in place and sun flights yet to return, demand for destination weddings is “very low” for 2021, which is why DWHSA is recommending that agents book as far out as 2023.
“Given how severe Canada’s current lockdown is and how unsure we are about the testing and mandatory quarantine rules, it’s probably safest to recommend 2022 dates and even 2023 for future destination wedding bookings,” says Scull. “There are fantastic deals in the marketplace right now and tour operators are offering flexible booking options to entice bookings. But for 2021, unless they are from a 2020 booking and looking to rebook or travel restrictions change, I don’t see a huge influx of destination weddings for 2021.”
This year may be a wash for destination wedding specialists but that doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to be optimistic about the future. Scull adds that there has been an “encouraging buzz” in the last couple weeks and that DWHSA is starting to see new bookings come in for 2022-2023, with members fielding more calls to rebook weddings that were cancelled over the past year.
“Most couples who cancelled 2020 and even 2021 destination weddings were given future travel credits issued by tour operators. They’re now rebooking their weddings for a third time and hopefully the last!” says Scull.
“Many DWHSA members in Canada are urging destination wedding clients to pick new dates as soon as possible due to the ‘traffic jam’ that’s happening now at many resorts and to receive the incredible low pricing we have today. But at the same time Canadians are just not sure about travel for 2021. We hope the quarantine lifts and that the vaccine will help with changing their minds. If so, don’t be surprised to see clients wanting ‘the last-minute wedding’ in the fall!”
This is Part One of Two in our Destination Weddings series. Check back next week for Part Two, which will include emerging trends post-pandemic, recommended destinations as well as insights from Sandals Resorts International.