TORONTO — A trend only becomes a trend when it becomes mainstream, adopted and replicated by many. So as of now, it’s much too early to determine whether tour operators will start offering guests COVID-19 testing services on a broad scale, however, thanks to early adopter Kensington Tours, Canada’s travel industry is at least taking notice.
The North American tour operator, which has offices in both Canada and the U.S., first announced on March 10 that it has started managing in-destination PCR and antigen testing for all clients returning to Canada and the United States, making it the first private-guided luxury operator to launch such a global initiative in North America.
Noting the varying rules and logistics from country to country, Helen Giontsis, President of Kensington Tours, tells Travelweek that a customized approach to COVID-19 testing is needed to ensure that each guest has access to the right antigen or molecular test prior to their return home. In some locales, for instance, hotel partners may have testing capability on site, allowing guests to book an appointment at time of check-in and take the test in their room, the ballroom or a convention area. In other locales, Kensington can arrange for a mobile testing team to visit a safari lodge or a city hotel so that guests can take a test prior to or following a day tour, or a test appointment at a local clinic and provide private transport, either as a standalone visit or as a stop on a private tour.
All this, says Giontsis, is currently being done across the more than 100 countries where Kensington operates. Even more reassuring, the company will not be resuming operations in any destination this year unless its local team is able to provide guests with a reputable antigen test of lab-supported molecular test that will be accepted by Canadian or American officials. Every guest can rest assured knowing that no matter where they’re travelling to with Kensington, their testing needs will be accommodated. And even more? In some destinations, Kensington is offering tests on a complimentary basis. In destinations where travellers will need to pay clinics directly, pricing varies depending on the destination and the type of test but will generally cost less than $100 for an antigen test and under $300 for a PCR test.
“People should feel confident about booking travel today and our new PCR testing initiative gives clients real peace of mind knowing that we will help arrange and manage the testing requirement for them – it takes another potential concern off their plate,” says Giontsis. “In 2021, facilitating COVID-19 testing is a logistical obstacle that must be overcome by any tour operator that wishes to safely send travellers abroad. To that end, Kensington is pleased to be a leader in this space.”
With Kensington leading the way, others may soon follow. Globus family of brands, for example, will be ready to accommodate guests once it resumes international operations, potentially as early as June, going so far as to cover the expense of a PCR test for Canadians prior to their return home should Canada’s testing requirements remain in effect at that time, says managing director Stéphanie Bishop.
G Adventures, on the other hand, has no plans to build COVID-19 tests and their associated costs into its tours, “as there are many variables in terms of what is required for the different nationalities that join our trips,” says David Green, VP Commercial. The company is, however, assisting guests with scheduling tests, transport to/from testing centres and, in some cases, arranging for testing at hotels, and has been doing so since Canada’s pre-arrival testing requirements were first announced back in January. “We have been providing testing options on day one of each tour so travellers can plan ahead, as they need to be tested during the last two or three days of their trip if they are flying straight home,” adds Green.
Whether tour operators agree to absorb the cost of testing or simply provide transport to/from testing facilities while in destination, understanding and accommodating the need for testing prior to a guest’s return home to Canada will become the new normal, says Brett Walker, Chair of the Canadian Association of Tour Operators (CATO).
“I’ve heard from our membership that everyone will be accommodating guests in need of a test. They’re going to have to because people are going to want to know that we’ve got their back,” he tells Travelweek.
Walker, who also serves as General Manager of Collette, says that Collette will be providing its guests with a list of local accredited testing facilities, as well as transportation to/from these facilities. It will also carve out the necessary time within itineraries to allow guests to be tested, without taking away time from any included features. Getting tested will, however, likely mean less free time for guests, “but we’re in a pandemic,” adds Walker.
“I think the most important thing that the consumer wants to hear is that whether I’m travelling with one operator or another, I need to know that they’re going to be accommodating so that I can return home in simple fashion,” he adds. “Tour companies in the short- and mid-term will make accommodations to allow everyone to get to/from testing sites with ease.”
To read the full article check out the March 18 edition of Travelweek here.