TORONTO — Once again travel agents are dealing with the confusing fallout of a last-minute announcement from the federal government that has left clients scrambling in-destination.
Just like in March, in the early days of the pandemic when agents and suppliers helped travellers get home on a moment’s notice, for the past week agents and suppliers have been working to assist clients in-destination who must now comply with the new PCR test rule, announced Dec. 30 and 31 for a Jan. 7 start date.
As detailed Jan. 6 by Transport Minister Marc Garneau, until Jan. 14 travellers arriving in Canada from the Caribbean and South America will have an extra 24 hours, up to 96 hours pre-arrival to Canada, to get their PCR tests done in-destination. There are also two exempt destinations – Haiti, and Saint Pierre et Miquelon – for which so far no test is required, at least until Jan. 21, due to a lack of testing facilities.
Otherwise the new PCR test rule is now in effect for all arrivals to Canada, and tests for passengers arriving from all destinations except for those outlined above must have been taken within 72 hours pre-arrival.
A Canadian government webpage with a list of countries and timelines and more information about the PCR test requirement can be found here. Also, to check listings for PCR test facilities, go to https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories, click on the country followed by that country’s Health tab. Not all destinations have facilities listed.
“CHAOS AND CONFUSION”
The situation has caused chaos and confusion, says Robert Townshend, President, Total Advantage Travel & Tours in Toronto
“We had to immediately try to locate passengers that were in destination. Sometime people don’t check their email or carry their cellphones while away so we had to contact them at the resorts,” Townshend told Travelweek this morning.
“It’s been a nightmare. The government should have given us at least three weeks notice so that we could implement in a normal fashion. This was dumped upon us over the holidays to take effect a few days after the holidays were over. Obviously no thought was put into the decision to announce it over the holidays,” says Townshend.
Townshend says he’s had questions from clients and potential travellers about the new PCR test requirements. “It’s caused a great deal of stress for travellers and agents,” he says. “For instance, I have people going to Jamaica on Jan. 24 for 1 week. Their return flight is at 3:30 p.m. on the 31st which is a Sunday. This means they would have to find a PCR clinic in Runaway Bay that would be open at 3:30 p.m. or later on the Thursday and would be able to provide results over the weekend. There is no guarantee of that so they are reconsidering their travel plans.”
He adds: “Every time I think that things are going to get better there is another nail that’s nailed in our coffin. The government isn’t thinking clearly.”
The new testing initiative at Toronto Pearson, announced yesterday, “just made matters worse because the public took that to mean that they didn’t have to have a PCR test done 3 days prior to departure if they were arriving at Pearson, when in fact they still do,” says Townshend.
“In the end there will be a lot of people who will be denied boarding and a lot of angry and frustrated passengers as well as agents!” he says.
“WE DECIDED TO FOCUS ON FALL 2021 AND 2022”
Other agents report few cancellations because they didn’t have clients travelling right now, in some cases, intentionally. “We deliberately and intentionally have not booked winter 2021 travel,” says Niche Travel Group owner, Faith Sproule in Dartmouth, NS.
She says: “The few bookings that we made this past summer for March / April 2021 have either been cancelled or will now be cancelled. Our federal and provincial governments have been very clear regarding non-essential travel. I wish that the Canadian government had given airlines and travellers 14 or 21 days notice instead of a week, but most Caribbean and European countries have had this rule in place for months now.”
She says Niche Travel Group decided to focus on fall 2021 and 2022 bookings instead of winter 2021. “I am happy to say that sales have picked up considerably over the last month or so. All is well with us and our advisors are excited to get rolling and help our clients book these great 2022 adventures.”