TORONTO — It was another hugely successful edition of Travelweek’s ‘Future of Travel’ virtual conference series, with an esteemed panel of speakers from both the federal government and the travel industry participating in yesterday’s sixth and latest installment.
Titled ‘Future of Travel: 2022,’ the virtual event highlighted various key issues that travel agents and the Canadian travel industry continue to face after two years of the pandemic, including Canada’s ongoing travel rules, which were recently eased on Feb. 28, financial aid and health and safety. But despite ongoing challenges, panelists were all in agreement that 2022 is off to a good start, with plenty of reason to be optimistic for significant recovery this year.
To watch the event in its entirety, click here.
“After six virtual events, it’s been amazing to see how far we as an industry have come since the start of the pandemic,” says Travelweek publisher Devin Kinasz. “We are so grateful to all our speakers, sponsors and partners for keeping everyone informed and for all their positivity. As many mentioned yesterday, forward bookings are up, travel is back and destinations around the world are ready to welcome Canadians again.”
Agents watching yesterday were able to once again share messages and ask questions via a chatbox. Erin Ayoung-Chee thanked “all of the wonderful speakers” and described the event as “very informative.” Jason Dorn added, “I can’t believe how helpful all this info is, bravo!” while Sheryll Donovan noted how “it feels good to be on this virtual event because I can smell the promise of tomorrow today!”
In addition to the panel of speakers, yesterday’s event also featured special guests AMR Collection, Quark Expeditions, Sandals Resorts, Grenada, Germany, Ireland, Flanders and France. Here is an overview of what was discussed yesterday:
THE FUTURE OF FINANCIAL AID
When asked whether Bill C-2, which provides wage and rent subsidies to hard-hit travel agencies through May 2022, and other essential government financial aid programs will be extended this year, The Hon. Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, Member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, Government of Canada, who kicked off the event, said these measures were always intended to be temporary. He noted that the federal government has already invested a total of $511 billion into the lives and livelihoods of Canadians and Canadian businesses, to “ensure that we wouldn’t have deep economic scarring coming out of the worst pandemic in 100 years.”
However, the Minister added that the hospitality and tourism sector has been the hardest hit in the pandemic and that he and his officials are currently looking into a possible extension of financial programs.
“We hear the sector clearly and we will be able to update the sector as we come to a decision on the timing of these programs and any possible extensions,” he said.
As for financial aid for independent travel agents, specifically ACTA’s recently proposed Independent Travel Agent Relief Program (ITARP), Minister Boissonnault confirmed that he recently met with ACITA (Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors) and that he’s aware of their financial struggles as they have largely been shut out of financial aid.
“We have seen the request,” he said of the ITARP proposal. “I can say very clearly that I’m working with officials in industry, science and economic development, as well as in finance to see what we’re able to do.”
WHAT ABOUT TESTING?
Following Canada’s newly eased travel measures on Feb. 28, which included the acceptance of rapid antigen testing for pre-arrival into Canada, Minister Boissonnault was asked whether he foresees the elimination of pre-arrival testing altogether.
Noting how “the Canadian economy won’t fully recover until the tourism sector does,” the Minister said that the federal government will continue to follow the science and adjust measures accordingly.
“I think [the new measures] was a strong first step to signal very clearly to the sector and to Canadians and the travelling public that Canada is definitely open for tourism,” he said. “We want to see our tourism neighbours come back and we want to let people know that we’ve got one of the safest, if not the safest, jurisdictions in the world to travel to.”
Brett Walker, speaking as Chair of CATO (Canadian Association of Tour Operators), thinks that most, if not all CATO members, will be facilitating rapid testing on behalf of clients. “It’s going to be a huge burden off the consumer when they think about booking their trip,” he said.
When asked if he thinks rapid testing will eventually be built into the price of trips, Walker said it’s a big unknown right now.
“CATO and our partner organizations are all talking about what this might look like, what we would envision with something like this,” he said. “But I think it’s key to the industry to make sure that whatever may happen in the short-, mid- and long-term, that we have much greater certainty with regard to what’s going to be required and we’re working toward that end.”
FORWARD BOOKINGS: “A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME”
The travel industry is in a far better position now than it was this time last year, which is evident in the number of forward bookings. Representatives from Scenic Luxury Cruises, Globus family of brands, Emerald Waterways and Bahia Principe all spoke about robust bookings for 2022 and even into 2023, particularly following the announcement of Canada’s newly relaxed travel rules.
On how Europe bookings are shaping up this year compared to last, Carla Brake, Director of Business Development at Globus family of brands, said that business has steadily increased since mid-January.
“Whenever we see the government ease restrictions, we always see a spike in sales…so for 2022 things are looking great,” said Brake. “The biggest demand is for Europe and North America, especially Canada. Within Europe, we’re seeing a lot of Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. And we also put a big focus on our Canadian portfolio over the last year and really shone a light on the great trips that we have…and business in 2022 is well beyond what it was in 2019 and in previous years.”
Patricia Wu, Brand Director at Emerald Cruises Canada also reported promising numbers, saying the team has seen a very strong interest in river cruising among Canadians this past year.
“We have been on the ground and our sales team is out there visiting our travel agents in person, ready to support their business. And we’ve been hearing optimism. Obviously we’re hoping for further easing of restrictions but the recent announcements have been very positive and we are confident for sales recovery, especially for 2022,” said Wu.
Lisa Willie, BDM-Western Canada at Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours Canada, noted a significant new booking trend: the rise of first-time river cruisers.
“Actually 65% of all 2022 and 2023 bookings are first-time cruisers to Scenic, and many of those are new river cruisers as well. So we’re definitely seeing there’s a comfort in small, intimate and uncrowded environments,” said Willie.
And over at Bahia Principe properties in Mexico and the Caribbean, Henry Perez, Director of Sales & Marketing, USA & Canada, said that things are getting back to normal.
“Our resorts have had anywhere from 80%-85% occupancy over the last several months now,” he said. “We’re seeing the crowds come back and have definitely seen the occupancy levels increasing. That’s a good sign of things to come.”
DESTINATIONS ARE READY
Speaking as Chair, Canada of the European Travel Commission, Pascal Prinz said that though Europe is still very much in recovery mode and that tourism numbers are far from 2019 levels, things are looking up thanks to a successful vaccine rollout and the EU COVID-19 Certificate.
“Here is the very good news that we all have been waiting for: if you are fully vaccinated and Canadian, Europe is really reopening. All the vaccines that are approved here in Canada are also recognized in Europe, which will really help facilitate travel,” said Prinz. “Overall, it’s really looking good and we are excited to welcome our Canadian friends back. Canada is a crucial market – before the pandemic, it was the third most important market for outbound travel for Europe.”
Prinz also suggested going to the Europe Reopened site for the most up-to-date information on travel to Europe.
And dialing in from sunny Barbados was Marsha Alleyne, Chief Product Development Officer at Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., who spoke about the current vibe on the island and what Canadians can expect upon arrival.
“What I can say is that the island is alive. There’s so much activity happening!” she said. “We have slowly reopened all of our restrictions and initial protocols and the curfews are gone completely. The restaurants are open, the streets are busy, and the beaches have people. We are doing well.”
To watch ‘Future of Travel: 2022,’ click here. And watch out for our special Future of Travel edition of Travelweek on March 17.