“It’s making things harder”: Travel advisors speak up about ArriveCAN app

“It’s making things harder”: Travel advisors speak up about ArriveCAN app

TORONTO — For weeks, if not months, Canada’s travel industry, including airlines and advocacy groups, has called for the elimination of the ArriveCAN app.

Citing technical glitches and ensuing long lineups at Canada’s major airports, particularly Toronto Pearson, industry experts have argued that the app – first launched in November 2020 as a way to facilitate contact tracing and monitor COVID-19 vaccinations among air arrivals – has outlived its usefulness, particularly now with the majority of Canadians fully vaccinated and the easing of travel restrictions around the world. Even lawmakers south of the border, in the United States, are imploring Ottawa to scrap the app to ease travel delays between the two countries. And earlier this week, a constitutional challenge of the app was filed in Federal Court by a rights group that’s aiming to strike down the mandatory use of the app and declare quarantine rules for Canadians who refuse to use it as unconstitutional. The 11 Canadians who make up the group also claim the federal health minister has failed or refused to provide evidence that ArriveCAN’s data collection is legal or secure.

But during the first of a series of hearings into Canada’s airport chaos last week, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra insisted that delays for arriving passengers would be even worse without ArriveCAN, and that in reality, the app isn’t contributing to airport congestion.

“ArriveCAN enables travellers to provide verification of their vaccination status electronically. Without it we would be adding several minutes per passenger at the border,” he told the House
of Commons transport committee.

The federal government has previously said that the app, which will remain mandatory when entering Canada by air, land, rail or marine vessel through at least Sept. 30, will likely outlast the pandemic, evolving into a tool used for customs declarations in the future. An optional Advance CBSA Declaration feature has been implemented in ArriveCAN to submit travellers’ customs and immigration declarations in advance of arrival. According to the government, early usage data indicates that using the optional declaration cuts the amount of time a traveller spends at a kiosk by roughly one-third. In the week ending Aug. 14, the advance CBSA declaration was submitted by 34% of arriving passengers at Toronto Pearson, Vancouver and Montréal-Trudeau international airports, and in the coming weeks, this feature will become available to travellers arriving at the Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Billy Bishop Toronto City, Ottawa, Quebec City and Halifax international airports.

So the situation at airports is improving, says the government, but for many travellers, the app continues to be a hassle at best and a logistical nightmare at worst. As information like proof of vaccination, travel dates and contact info must be submitted via the app within 72 hours before arrival in Canada, challenges like limited or spotty Wi-Fi while in destination have been widely reported. The app is also proving to be difficult to navigate for those who are not comfortable or familiar with using an app, or those who do not have access to the technology required.

All this, of course, means more headaches for travel advisors, who are working tirelessly to make their clients’ trips as seamless as possible. We reached out to several advisors to get their take on the app, and whether they think it’s time to finally be rid of it.

Marianne Vogel, Owner, Just for You Travel & Consulting, Dundas, ON

Upon first hearing about the ArriveCAN app, Vogel thought it was a good way to safeguard the health and safety of Canadians and to ensure the continued recovery of the travel industry. However, she did not take into account the fact that many of her clients are on the older side, who either do not have a smartphone or are using older model phones, like flip phones, that are unable to run apps. This means Vogel has spent numerous hours helping her clients download and access the ArriveCAN – remotely – on their behalf.

“I did a client’s ArriveCAN for them and although it was relatively simple to set up, when I had to go back to submit their final return information, the app had me sign in at least three times before it would allow me to finish. And as my client does not have a phone and no way of printing out the information in a foreign country, I had to go through the travel supplier and their hotel in Ireland, which finally printed it out for them. It was a huge hassle for me,
considering I spent a few hours minimum on this,” Vogel tells Travelweek.

Vogel did try calling the ArriveCAN helpline at first, to explain how her client does not own a cell phone and thus, unable to access the app.

“However, the woman I spoke to kept insisting that everyone had a cell phone, or at least an email address, and was appalled when I told her my client didn’t have either,” she said. “Not everyone is tech savvy, even some younger people are not. The app is just one more thing to add to the layers of travel that has to be adhered to now.”

Vogel adds that many of her clients are refusing to travel internationally, or even driving to the United States for fear of being “jailed, quarantined or fined” if using the app incorrectly. Those who choose to fly south for vacation are simply “praying it will work properly” and hoping that someone at the hotel will help them work the app.

“The app is causing our already-shaky recovery to slow down even more, and causing headaches at the airport,” she says. “Not every country has good Wi-Fi, and what happens if your phone or iPad gets lost or stolen? The tech world is supposed to make things easier, but in this case, it’s making things harder.”

Kim Hartlen, Owner, Kim Hartlen Travel-TPI, Halifax, NS
Though Hartlen says the ArriveCAN app isn’t impacting bookings per se, she tells Travelweek that the process involved with downloading and submitting information via the app is frustrating for her clients, many of whom feel it is not necessary at this stage of the pandemic.

“It has been a challenge for some clients, even though I do go over the details of the app before they travel. Clients have reached out while away to have me help, which is just one of many reasons booking with a travel advisor is so important. I am always here for my clients,” she says.

Hartlen, who is currently hosting a river cruise group, adds that she will be on hand to help her clients navigate through the app process, a service that they are most grateful for “as it takes away that added stress,” she says.

When asked whether she thinks the app is still necessary, Hartlen believes Canada should be following the lead of other countries that have fully opened up.

“There are a lot of travellers who will not travel until it doesn’t feel like a hassle with added stress,” she says. “We have gone long enough with travel being hugely impacted by all these restrictions and added challenges – it’s time to get back to normal.”

Gary Rams, Crowfoot Travel Solutions, Calgary, AB

Not everyone is seeing push-back about ArriveCAN. Rams, who says his clients are more frustrated by delayed luggage and flights and random testing than they are about the app, tells Travelweek that “people who want to travel, will travel,” particularly following two years of COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

“My clients are used to filling out apps, Visas and paperwork. This is just one more thing on a growing list of things we need to do in order to travel now,” he says.

Rams does admit that ArriveCAN proved to be a challenge at first for some of his clients, particularly those who are older.

“But once I showed them how to navigate it, they were okay with it. It would be nice, however, to have another option for people who are unable to access or complete the app,” he says.

For more information about ArriveCAN, click here.

Got a story idea? Reach out to Cindy Sosroutomo, Deputy Editor, at cindys@travelweek.ca.

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