Is Canada selling for travel agents? Here and there, but those interprovincial restrictions aren't making things any easier

Is Canada selling for travel agents? Here and there, but interprovincial restrictions aren’t making things easier

TORONTO — While travel is gradually reopening in places like Europe – and already skyrocketing, relatively speaking, in the U.S. – here at home the expectation is for another made-in-Canada summer when it comes to travel plans.

In fact there’s been a lot of talk about domestic travel over the past couple of weeks, and with good reason. Rendez-vous Canada 2021, better known as RVC+ 2021, took place May 17 – 20, with Destination Canada playing virtual host to more than 1,500 delegates and helping to facilitate some 22,000 connections between buyers and suppliers.

 

That was followed by TIAC’s Tourism Week, on now through May 30. To launch Tourism Week in Canada, TIAC is asking all Canadians to take the 2021 Tourism Pledge to travel in their home country this year.

We wondered, are travel agents seeing any uptick in requests for Canada travel product in 2021, or is it still true that most Canadians vacationing in Canada book their trips themselves?

“It’s probably the best year ever to see Canada because we have it all to ourselves,” said Marsha Walden, President and CEO, Destination Canada, at Travelweek’s ‘Future of Travel: Sunnier Days Ahead’ virtual conference on May 19.

Walden noted that travel agents, with their expertise and understanding of their clients’ needs, play an important role when it comes to Canada’s tourism recovery. “Travellers need more reassurance, they’re looking for that expert guidance,” said Walden.

Back at the start of summer 2020 Destination Canada launched its new landing page for agents, CanadaSpecialist.ca, as part of the Canada Specialist program. The French-language version is at specialistesducanada.ca.

Since the start of 2021, more than 3,500 travel agents have become Canada Specialists, ensuring that more and more agents are ready to sell Canada either for this summer – if interprovincial travel restrictions ease – or for later in the year.

That said, interest in Canada travel, or any travel for that matter, is still at a slow burn according to the agents we talked to.

 

“We have a few people booked for a September 2021 Rocky Mountaineer trip,” says Faith Sproule, owner of Niche Travel in Dartmouth, NS. “Most Atlantic Canadians are looking to travel to Ontario, Quebec or Western Canada to visit family as soon as possible. But the big dollar trips are still to Europe, the Caribbean or Hawaii as soon as the 14 day quarantine is over.”

Jennifer Trofimuk with Planes, Trains & Kids Travel in Calgary says she hasn’t had any inquiries at all for Canada for this summer. “However, I’m also not actively promoting any product right now due to the uncertainty with everything,” she tells Travelweek.

Anyone who thought COVID-19 would bring the demise of the cruise industry – that is, anyone outside the travel industry, which knows better – would be surprised to hear what is in demand at Trofimuk’s agency. “Out of all the travel products out there, I’ve had the most interest/inquiries in cruises for 2022! Likely because you can hold a cabin so far in advance,” she says.

For now Trofimuk is mostly watching, and waiting, to make sure she’s ready for travel’s resurgence, and the uptick in requests from her clients: “It’s going to be really interesting to see how travel makes a comeback, and really how soon it will make a comeback. I’m optimistic though.”

Sandra McLeod with RedDoorTravel in LaSalle, ON says the interprovincial travel restrictions still in place in many jurisdictions are a major deterrent. “I don’t hear anyone wanting to travel in Canada because of all the restrictions in different provinces,” says McLeod. As a result, she’s not actively promoting travel in Canada, although in pre-pandemic times her Canada sales included Rocky Mountaineer, and West Coast tours for clients doing Alaska cruises.

McLeod says she’s also hearing just general frustration from her clients, after more than 14 months of pandemic life and its restrictions. “Most people are still very frustrated with the slow vaccine rollout, AKA extending [the time between the first and] the second shots. Especially in the area I live in, since we could get our second shots in Michigan, if the government would allow us to go without having to quarantine. They are also very frustrated with the travel restrictions, like the hotel quarantine and other quarantine measures.”

If the interprovincial travel restrictions are relaxed in the weeks ahead, there might still be a chance for salvaging domestic travel this summer.

TPI’s CEO Zeina Gedeon said during the May 19 Future of Travel event that early on in the pandemic TPI developed a portal showcasing Canadian travel product.

Canada “is the one thing we have continued to book” throughout the pandemic, notes Gedeon.