TORONTO — The advisory against non-essential travel may still in place, but “we have come to that important first step” with easing Canada’s travel restrictions, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at his COVID briefing this morning.
Following up on yesterday’s announcement that the quarantine is finally on its way out – effective July 5 for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada, at least – Trudeau said: “This is the first step.”
Trudeau added: “Canadians will be able to travel fully if they’re fully vaccinated.”
Asked about the Canada-U.S. border closure, extended until July 21, Trudeau hinted that, as reported on Travelweek.ca on June 18, this could be the last border closure extension.
“We’re doing this gradually but we’re talking about weeks and not months anymore,” he said.
Later he added: “We certainly hope we will have more good news about reopenings in the coming weeks.”
TRAVEL ADVISORY STILL STANDS
While the quarantine is finally on its way out – effective July 5 for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada, at least – the lack of clarity surrounding the federal government’s announcement yesterday, specifically the advisory against non-essential travel that’s still in place, has industry groups calling for a more concrete plan.
Says Wendy Paradis, President, ACTA: “While today’s news is a welcome step forward for Canada’s travel industry, unfortunately, continued non-essential travel advisories and restrictions offer little hope of recovery this summer.”
Not only that, but with CEWS, CERS and CRB starting to wind down next month, Canada’s 24,000 travel agents will be at risk of unemployment and bankruptcies, she added. The majority of travel agencies, travel agents and independent travel agents have experienced over 95% revenue losses compared to 2019. Over 800 store-front travel agencies have closed since the start of the pandemic, and travel agent businesses have laid off or furloughed 63% of staff, despite federal support programs.
As noted in yesterday’s coverage at Travelweek.ca, the advisory against all non-essential travel – the very first travel restriction announced back in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic – still stands.
As Bill Blair, Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness said yesterday: “At this time, the government of Canada continues to strongly advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel. Although the future is looking brighter than it has for a long time with COVID-19 cases on a downward trend and vaccination efforts going well across the country, we can’t let our guard down. Our phased approach to easing border measures is guided by facts, scientific evidence, and the advice of our public health experts. In all that we’re doing in response to this pandemic, our top priority continues to be the health, safety and security of all Canadians.”
So what’s the industry to do? Clients may be calling, but with the advisory still in place, there’s still a major roadblock. And the planned reductions of federal support programs means that most travel agent businesses will have continued monthly losses, even with potential increases in travel demand, says Paradis. Plus, agencies continue to manage government-mandated ticket refunds and future travel credits for no revenue.
Paradis said ACTA was disappointed that the federal government reiterated its position that Canadians should avoid all non-essential travel. She said ACTA will aggressively lobby the government to extend federal business support programs and ease travel advisories and restrictions.
“Travel agencies have been operating at a loss since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Paradis. “Without continued full federal support for at least the summer, many will close. Businesses can only survive monthly losses for so long.”
Clear guidance from the federal government on when travel advisories and restrictions will ease is imperative, she added. “And, until travel advisories are lifted and borders are fully opened, travel agencies, travel agents and the entire Canadian travel industry require continued and enhanced financial support.”
WHAT THE NACC & CANADIAN TRAVEL & TOURISM ROUNDTABLE SAY
The National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) says it’s time for the one-off piecemeal announcements concerning quarantine and border policy changes to stop.
Yesterday’s news followed Prime Minister Trudeau’s June 18 announcement that Canada is pursuing a 2-track system of proof of vaccination, and the June 9 announcement about the elimination of hotel quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents.
“Easing quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians and eligible travellers is a step in the right direction, but falls far short of the recommendations provided by Health Canada’s Expert Advisory Panel report released last month. The government continues to refuse to provide Canadians with a clear and comprehensive restart plan outlining how measures from the report will be adopted. While other countries like France have already changed their measures to welcome Canadian travellers, we still have no plan or clear timeframe in Canada,” said NACC President and CEO, Mike McNaney.
McNaney also noted that the government’s requirement that children under the age of 18 who are not fully vaccinated must adhere to a 14-day quarantine runs counter to the approach taken by other countries. “The government repeatedly states it is working with our international partners and following science, yet pursues initiatives such as mandatory quarantine for minors that is completely out of step with other jurisdictions. In fact, the policy directly contradicts the recommendations issued jointly on June 17 by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency,” he said.
Meanwhile the Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable is acknowledging the federal government’s decision to lift some quarantine restrictions for Canadians and permanent residents as ‘a small first step’, and says Canada urgently needs a proper plan and a policy on travel that is based on science, is in line with what other countries are doing, and one agnostic on nationality.
“ Without question, fully vaccinated travellers should be welcome to come and go, without quarantine or restriction. COVID-19 doesn’t recognize your passport, but it recognizes your vaccine. Nationality has nothing to do with it,” says a statement from the Roundtable.
“Today’s government announcement does nothing to aid and improve the Canadian travel and tourism industry. Canadian hospitality businesses rely on international travellers. By allowing Canadians to travel internationally while prohibiting fully vaccinated foreign travellers from entering Canada, the government is significantly disadvantaging Canadian businesses that, after a year and a half of a pandemic, need a successful summer travel season to survive.”
Like the NACC, the Roundtable’s statement also notes the frustrations ahead for Canadian families with young children. “Upon arrival to Canada, unvaccinated children will be forced to quarantine for 14-days, even if their parents are fully vaccinated. This policy is almost unprecedented and doesn’t reflect what Canada’s international partners are doing in Europe, the UK, and the US. In Canada, children under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated. As a result of the mandatory quarantine for children, Canadian families with children have been effectively and unfairly prohibited from international travel this summer. Today’s announcement opened international travel for a fortunate few, principally establishing a two-tiered system benefitting business travel and those without young children.”
The Roundtable, which includes executives from major airlines, tour operators, travel agencies, industry groups and other businesses, notes: “Right now in Ontario, it is easier to travel to Rome than it is to drive to Rochester. If you live in Quebec, is easier to fly to Paris than drive to Vermont. Canadians are doing their part in getting vaccinated; now it is time for the federal government to provide clear, timely, and safe guidance on reopening Canada for travel. Our people, our communities, and our economy depend on it.”