“Sentiment has shifted”: More challenges for start of 2021

“Sentiment has shifted”: More challenges for start of 2021

TORONTO — The month of January normally brings list upon list of new travel styles and must-see destinations, as the industry looks forward to another profitable year.

But not this year. For the start of 2021, the focus is on sheer survival amid mounting travel rules and restrictions during the pandemic.

The federal government’s PCR test requirement, announced with a week’s notice, was just the latest blow for an industry already damaged by 10 months of restrictions, including the advisory against non-essential travel, and the 14-day quarantine.

One day after the PCR test rule went into effect, WestJet announced more capacity cuts impacting more than a dozen winter sun destinations in the Caribbean, among other routes. With just 150 daily departures, WestJet is now back to 2001 capacity levels. On Jan. 13 Air Canada announced route cuts as well.

Meanwhile the appointment of a brand new Transport Minister, Omar Alghabra, could lead to more weeks or months going by with no further word about the federal government’s airline bailout package, keeping the retail travel industry in limbo as agents wait to hear about mass commission recalls.

Things were looking up in November, with the announcement of multiple vaccines, and then in December with news of vaccine rollouts.

But everything went south over the holiday break as travel became even more of a scapegoat for COVID-19, at least in the public eye, and as case numbers rose dramatically.

Flemming Friisdahl, founder, The Travel Agent Next Door, says he’d be surprised if other airlines don’t cut or reduce flights as well: “They have little choice. I think it is stupid when we can do the testing when they land and make it work that way.”

While the travel industry waits to see if late spring and early summer 2021 are any better than spring and summer 2020, the immediate focus of every travel retailer and supplier is to survive the winter and stay solvent.

When asked what ACTA is telling the government about the impact travel agents could see if the retail travel sector isn’t protected, ACTA President Wendy Paradis says that with the COVID rise, ACTA is expecting dark days for travel agents this winter. “Government and Canadian sentiment have shifted,” says Paradis. “The #1 priority for ACTA is financial support for travel agents and travel agencies.”

Paradis tells Travelweek: “The vast majority of the retail travel industry remains furloughed. Our travel agencies and travel agents are telling us that new revenue is almost non-existent with the latest announcements about testing, and government reinforcing its messaging about travel advisories.”

For the full story see the Jan. 14 issue of Travelweek by clicking here.

Kathryn Folliott