TORONTO — With so much uncertainty hovering over travel, it’s not surprising that travellers are booking much further out than before the pandemic, opting for the ‘wait-and-see’ approach as travel restrictions and border closures continue to fluctuate.
But with the Delta variant taking hold in many countries around the world, and the majority of Canadians rolling up their sleeves to be vaccinated (as of Sept. 10, 77.49% of Canadians 12 and older are considered fully vaccinated), we wanted to know: are Canadians looking to book a last-minute getaway before more restrictions take hold?
Taking into account accessibility, safety and affordability, we asked seven tour operators where last-minute vacationers should travel to right now. Here’s what they had to say:
AIR CANADA VACATIONS
According to Nino Montagnese, Vice President, Air Canada Vacations, “we are definitely seeing a strong demand for last-minute departures, particularly for Mexico and the Caribbean, Canada and even Europe,” in addition to long stays.
When asked for just one destination that he would recommend right now, Punta Cana is tops in his book.
“The Dominican Republic doesn’t require a COVID-19 test to enter and we have many flight options for Canadians to choose from, making it easier to escape the coming fall chill with a sunny getaway,” he says.
ACV has many last-minute packages for 4-star resorts in Punta Cana starting at $649, tax included.
Jeff Roy, Executive Vice President of Collette, tells Travelweek that the company is seeing a mix of travellers booking both domestic and international destinations for the fall and early into next year, to destinations within the European Union such as Iceland, Greece and France. To make clients feel at ease when booking, Collette has mandated vaccinations for international travel and is offering a cancel for any reason protection policy until the day prior to departure.
The one destination he would recommend right now would be Iceland, the “land of fire and ice.” Collette’s ‘Iceland’s Magical Northern Lights,’ now available for booking from October to December 2021, travels the ‘Golden Circle’ and includes a starlit cruise, visits to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal fields of Geysir, as well as a dip in the mineral-rich waters of the Blue Lagoon. Click here for more details.
Noting that many travellers are opting to book for early 2022, David Green, VP of Commercial at G Adventures says that the tide has shifted somewhat in recent weeks, with lead times reducing as more Canadians look to get away before the end of the year. He recommends Costa Rica for its “wealth of activities, biodiversity and landscapes,” not to mention its warm temperatures in October and November. But for those wanting to venture a little further, Portugal and Spain both have high vaccination rates and are being open to travellers, “which is great for an autumn break,” he says.
G Adventures has the 16-day ‘Costa Rica Adventure – Plus,’ which visits San Jose, Tortuguero, La Fortuna, Sarapiqui, Quepos and Puerto Viejo del Talamanca and is priced from $2,249 per person, excluding flights, in November.
In Europe, there’s the seven-day ‘Highlights of Portugal,’ priced from $1,429 per person, excluding flights, in October and visiting Lisbon, Coimbra, Batalha and Porto, and the six-day ‘Hiking Madeira,’ priced from $1,299 per person, excluding flights, in November.
Generally speaking, Canadians are taking a more cautious approach to travel bookings for 2021, says Stéphanie Bishop, managing director, Global family of brands, adding that the company is seeing “record-breaking bookings for 2022 and 2023.” At present, Globus family of brands considers a ‘last-minute’ booking as one made about two months from departure.
For these clients, Bishop recommends Ireland, a destination that she is personally looking forward to revisiting.
“Like Canada, Ireland is enjoying high vaccination rates, and with no quarantine or testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers – not to mention the return of direct flights from Toronto to Dublin – it’s extremely accessible,” she says.
Globus is offering off-season Escapes to Ireland, including the seven-day ‘Irish Escape,’ priced from $1,319 with several departures available from October through December 2021. Click here for more details.
Moira Smith, VP Asia and Africa at Goway, tells Travelweek that the company is seeing travellers book both last minute and further out. Noting that last-minute bookers are heading to destinations that offer good airlift and health and safety protocols, she says that Goway’s top three most popular destinations right now are for island locales.
But if she had to choose just one destination for a last-minute getaway, Smith says Maldives – with a stop in Dubai either en route or on return – is a good bet.
“High-end private luxury is the main allure right now. And with every resort in Maldives located on its own island, offering spacious accommodations, high-end inclusions and space, it’s the perfect antidote to the year we’ve all had,” says Smith.
She adds that with a nearly 80% vaccination rate, Dubai is the perfect add-on to a Maldives getaway. Plus, with Expo 2020 Dubai taking place from Oct. 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 and featuring over 200 participating pavilions, (it was originally scheduled for 2020 and was postponed due to the pandemic), now is a good time to visit.
Goway has the 12-day ‘Dubai Expo & Maldives with Airfare’ package on sale until Sept. 30, 2021, priced from $5,540 (savings of $430). Click here for more details.
Despite the Delta variant and uneven vaccine rollouts, “travel is coming back,” albeit at differing rates around the world, says Matt Berna, Managing Director of North America for Intrepid Travel.
“Domestic travel is driving the recovery in many destinations as travel alerts and restrictions continue to change for international travel, causing uncertainty,” he adds. “Based on the travel restrictions and recommendations from the Canadian government, our Canadian domestic tours would be a great option for travellers, especially those looking to travel more last-minute.”
Berna suggests Intrepid’s five-day ‘Sunshine Coast Walking Winter Adventure,’ which takes travellers along Canada’s lesser-known Sunshine Coast, a stretch of land that hugs the Georgia Strait. In between exploring quaint seaside communities, travellers will ferry across the Strait on a number of scenic rides, hike the coast and Willingdon Beach trails, and ride the Skookumchuk Tidal Rapids. Prices start at $1,805 per person. Click here for more details.
Up until two weeks ago, Trafalgar was seeing clients eagerly booking 2021 vacations. However, in the week leading up to Labour Day weekend, “we started seeing some bookings switch to late 2021 and 2022,” says Wolf Paunic, President of Trafalgar, Costsaver and Brendan Vacations Canada, all part of The Travel Corporation umbrella.
Paunic is quick to add that Trafalgar is currently operating in some of its most popular destinations, including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Slovenia, “so there are choices in terms of destinations for last-minute bookings.”
His first choice for a last-minute getaway during these times is Trafalgar’s 11-day ‘Best of Croatia and Slovenia,’ next departing on Sept. 17 and including a scenic boat ride on Lake Bled, a ‘Be My Guest’ experience on a Slovenian farm, a visit to Plitvice and a sunset cruise up the Dalmatian Coast. Noting how he himself spent time on Croatia’s coast in early July and “enjoyed a fantastic experience,” Paunic praised both Croatia and Slovenia for their health and wellbeing practices, which are compliant with WTTC’s Safe Travel guidelines and are ensured by Trafalgar’s Wellbeing Directors.
“Guided travel is the way to go given the current circumstances, as one can leave the possible confusion induced by different rules and regulations to Trafalgar and fully commit to enjoying travel experiences delivered by our Travel Directors, Local Specialists and friendly hosts,” said Paunic.