Strange days indeed: The phones are ringing again, but the travel ban’s still in place

Strange days indeed: The travel ban’s still in place, but the phones are ringing again

TORONTO — Getting rid of quarantine measures for fully vaccinated travellers eliminates a major stumbling block to travel’s restart.

The non-essential travel ban is still in place, so Canadians are still cautious about booking travel for the immediate future.

But travel for later in 2021, and into 2022? Tour operators and travel agents say the phones are ringing and bookings are coming in at a good clip for fall and winter 2021, and 2022.

Some clients have even been caught off guard by how fast the good deals are disappearing.

Says Jennifer McPherson with Turnkey Travel – TravelOnly: “A Dreams resort package I quoted on May 20 has now increased by $500 per person and the client wishes she had booked!”

Maybe seeing Prime Minister Trudeau finally talk about travel with a smile on his face, as he did when making his June 18 announcement about Canada’s 2-track proof of vaccination system for international travel, got some clients thinking about their own long-overdue travel plans. Canada’s vaccination success has boosted spirits. And the federal government’s June 21 announcement about eased travel restrictions for fully vaccinated returning Canadians, effective July 5, was no doubt the biggest game-changer so far.

Nino Montagnese, Managing Director, ACV, says that the biggest demand is for winter 2021-2022 sun destinations. “We had anticipated a few trends that we’re seeing materialize in types of bookings as well. Namely, a tremendous demand for sun destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean. And, as so many Canadians have been longing to reunite with friends and family, there has also been an increase in multiple room bookings. Finally, travellers are looking to shed their months of lockdown with once-in-a-lifetime getaways, and we’re seeing this in the rise of luxury vacations,” says Montagnese.

ACV is calling back employees and hiring new team members to keep up with the demand.

It’s the same at Goway.

“We are seeing a significant increase in inquiries. There is pent-up demand and clients are shopping and dreaming of their next trip. We are presently bringing back all of our Destination Specialists and will be at full staffing on the sales floor in the next two weeks,” says Goway’s VP, Europe, Craig Canvin.

“If the destination is open, clients are booking,” adds Canvin. “Greece, Iceland, Costa Rica, Belize, Dubai, Egypt, Tahiti and the Maldives are all incredibly popular right now.”

Goway’s message for agents? “Business is back. If your clients are thinking of travelling this fall, book early and remember we are still offering our flexible booking conditions,” says Canvin.

Collette is also seeing an uptick. Almost all the new bookings are for 2022 and 2023. “We have dates available through May 31, 2023,” says Collette’s General Manager, Brett Walker.

Sales of Collette’s cancel for any reason waiver have skyrocketed, Walker added, from a 36% buy-rate pre-pandemic, to 62% now. “It’s been climbing consistently,” he says. “Our waiver allows guests to cancel at any point, up to 24 hours prior to departure and receive a full cash refund and Collette made good on that promise throughout the pandemic.”

SUPPORT STILL NEEDED

But while the travel restrictions are winding down, so too are the federal government’s financial assistance programs that have helped the travel industry stay alive throughout the pandemic.

Travel agents have been working amid negative cash flow for more than a year now, and while bookings are now coming in, the long booking window means agents still aren’t seeing any immediate revenue.

ACTA President Wendy Paradis said that although the news of the eased travel restrictions was welcome, “unfortunately, continued non-essential travel advisories and restrictions offer little hope of recovery this summer.”

The still-in-effect travel advisory has impact for tour operators too.

“Tour companies carry liability and errors & omissions insurance as part of sound business practice. These insurance policies carry an endorsement which nullifies the tour operator’s insurance coverage while the ‘Avoid all travel’ and ‘Avoid non essential travel’ government advisories are in effect. So until these blanket advisories are lifted, it is extremely difficult (read largely impossible) for Ontario-based tour operators to operate tours outside Canada,” says Laurielle Penny, Managing Director, Worldwide Quest.

Penny adds: “Individuals are free to disregard the government advisory with impunity (and are now encouraged with a government wink to do so with the relaxation of restrictions upon re-entry to Canada); tour operators who follow the rules and regulations are not. Ontario-based outbound tour operators need the blanket advisories lifted and replaced with sensible country specific recommendations. And until that happens we need continuing government financial support to compensate for being prevented from operating.”

To read the full article, including feedback from the airlines, click here for Travelweek’s June 30 edition.