Poll results from Travelweek’s COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey show that while many front-line agents are working overtime to keep up with all the C&Cs - counselling and cancellations - they’re also ...
This story originally ran in the June 11, 2020 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — How do you sell travel when people are essentially prohibited from actually travelling? With global restrictions still in place around the world due to COVID-19, travel agents have been faced with the unique and seemingly impossible task of selling travel dreams during this unprecedented time. So how are they getting around this? Looking for solutions closer to home, for one.
Domestic travel is anticipated to hit new highs in the coming months as Canadians consider holidays in their own backyard due to ongoing border closures. According to Travelweek’s recent COVID-19 Consumer Survey, which garnered over 3,000 responses from consumers across the country, an overwhelming 42.7% of respondents said that Canada would be their destination of choice should global travel resumed tomorrow, compared to the next most preferred destination of Mexico/Caribbean/South America (20.5%).
This is particularly significant considering that an increasing number of destinations have announced plans to ease lockdown measures in the coming weeks, including The Bahamas, Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Though borders are on their way to reopening, Canadians still face such daunting challenges as mandatory quarantines upon their return home (and in some cases, in destination), plus the federal government’s advisory against non-essential travel outside Canada. Issues surrounding travel medical insurance amid the pandemic are also a factor.
DESTINATION CANADA’S $30 MILLION INVESTMENT
It’s no wonder then, with all these challenges and uncertainties, that domestic travel within Canada is set to increase, says Gloria Loree, Senior Vice President, Marketing Strategy & Chief Marketing Officer at Destination Canada.
“With an unprecedented number of Canadians travelling domestically, there will be a greater volume of travellers sharing their travel highlights,” she tells Travelweek. “This kind of advocacy has the potential for long-term impact and will change how Canadians see and value their own country for holiday and business travel in the future.”
In anticipation of domestic travel trends, Destination Canada announced last month a $30 million investment made in collaboration with provinces and territories to support the recovery of Canada’s tourism sector, which has been devastated by the pandemic, over the next 18 months. According to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), at the end of 2018, one out of every 11 jobs in Canada was directly tied to travel. This past April, the unemployment rate in the tourism sector spiked to an astounding 28%.
Destination Canada’s ground-breaking investment, therefore, aims to provide a lifeline to the struggling sector just in time for the peak summer season. Historically, Canadians have spent over $31.2 billion annually in Canada on travel, both within and outside their own province. Significantly more has traditionally been spent abroad, about $36 billion.
“If we were to capture 60% of that spend, we could make up our loss of international travel,” adds Loree.
PROVINCE-TO-PROVINCE TRAVEL IS TRICKY
Of course, Canada itself is not immune to border restrictions, with several provinces, including New Brunswick, Newfoundland and PEI, as well as the three territories, temporarily barring Canadians from other provinces from entering in an effort to protect the health of their respective residents.
This is why it’s imperative to check with local Destination Marketing Organizations before embarking on any cross-provincial trips to see whether the destination is ready to welcome back local tourists.
Once it’s safe to do so, always support local, says Loree.
“Support local tourism businesses and explore within your region. Not only is this a great opportunity to discover gems in your own backyard, but it’s also a great way to support the recovery of your local community,” she says.
“BE A RESOURCE”
With more Canadians anticipated to “support local,” the question remains: will they book their Canadian getaways through a travel agent? Historically speaking, those who travel within Canada tend to book accommodations and modes of transportation on their own, shutting agents out of the process. So how do we include the 6,000-plus travel agencies and 23,000 travel agents in Canada back into the fold?
Be a resource and stay informed, says Loree.
“Given that Canadians are unlikely to be able to undertake international holidays in 2020, travel agents will play an important role in promoting domestic travel opportunities and, in turn, supporting local economies. This vast network of agents is a valuable resource for Canadians who have the desire to travel but likely need help navigating the new landscape,” she says.
Loree adds that Destination Canada is currently collaborating with industry partners to “strengthen our ability to build demand for the fall, winter and beyond,” and that the organization will be hosting a series of webinars starting June 18. “Supporting a timely recovery starts with providing domestic travel agents with the product knowledge they need so they can better guide Canadians with their travel plans,” she says.
NEW DOMESTIC TRAVEL OPTIONS
A growing number of travel suppliers and major retailers are also shifting their focus to domestic options, including Transat Distribution Canada (TDC), which announced earlier this month a new partnership with RV company CanaDream. Speaking with Travelweek, Joseph Adamo, President of TDC, believes that there’s no better time for Canadians to explore their home country, and a recreational vehicle (RV) may fit perfectly into their travel plans.
“We believe that in the short term there is a higher than normal demand to travel within Canada. While there are some limitations being imposed by some provinces, access to typically sold-out products such as CanaDream RVs, park entrances to sought-after attractions like Banff National Park and low gas prices make this year the best year to see Canada,” he says. To ensure we meet the domestic travel demand, TDC will be launching more domestic product that we know Canadians will be excited about.”
With 1,300 luxury vehicles available from seven gateways across Canada, CanaDream’s RVs are typically rented to international visitors but Adamo is hopeful they’ll be filled with Canadians in the short term.
“It’s a moving hotel that you control and is pre-sanitized from top to bottom,” says Adamo.
“It’s an attractive vacation option for two people or up to eight. For example, families with no summer camps this year are renting RVs and taking the kids for an amazing adventure. As more and more people experience an RV vacation, we may find that this travel option is here to stay. It is definitely a trend we are going to watch.”
Domestic tour operators that focus on authentic Canadian experiences may also see an uptick in business post-COVID. East of 80, for example, specializes in customized private travel across Quebec, the Maritimes and Newfoundland, and offers a referral fee to agents for at least its first full year of operations. Though currently grounded due to COVID-19, the newly launched company hopes to operate approximately three small group adventures each year starting in winter 2020 for high-end luxury travellers.
“People are realizing how beautiful and vast their own country is, and how many Canadians have put off domestic destinations in favour of far-flung spots,” say co-founders Mike and Jackie Poppe. “With more free time, Canadians are further exploring their own backyards and getting excited about the incredible experiences to be had closer to home.”
IN-PROVINCE INSURANCE COVERAGE
And as the need for Canada-bound travel increases, so too will there be a need for travel insurance products. Staying ahead of the curve is CAA-owned Orion Travel Insurance, which earlier this week became the first travel insurer in Canada to offer in-province Virtual Emergency Medical Assistance. Available free of charge, the new service is automatically embedded into Multi-Trip Annual Plans and Multi-Trip Annual Vacation Package Plans to provide Canadians with easier access to emergency medical assistance while travelling in their home province.
Noting the anticipated uptick in domestic travel once COVID-19-related restrictions begin to lift, Elliott Silverstein, Direct of Government Relations at CAA Insurance tells Travelweek that though Canadians have benefitted from Virtual Emergency Medical Assistance while abroad and between provinces for many years, this marks the first time the service has been made available for in-province travel.
“Following the pandemic lockdown, many Canadians are eager to embark on a vacation and will be focused on ensuring they remain safe during their travels,” he says. “We believe that the added in-province coverage will be received as it will give Canadians the comfort of travelling in their home province without having to navigate a walk-in clinic or hospital in a different city, should they need medical assistance.”
With health and safety being a hot-button issue for all travellers nowadays, Canada and all the comforts of home will be hard to beat in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. And with Destination Canada leading recovery efforts, which Loree says include both reaching local tourists and ensuring communities are equipped to receive them, travel within Canada may be a trend that’s here to stay, long after COVID-19.
“Investing in community-based tourism will enrich what we have to offer as a country while distributing the benefits of a visitor economy to more Canadians,” says Loree. “Nuanced, thoughtful, community-based tourism lifts up culture, art, community confidence and pride, and ultimately, innovation. Right now, we see that Canadians are increasingly ready to welcome tourists from within Canada.”