Space is going fast and prices are still high but that hasn’t deterred clients from booking December getaways, say agents

The Oct. 1 elimination of the mask and ArriveCAN mandate has agents talking, here’s what they’re saying

TORONTO — With the federal government’s announcement earlier this week that all of Canada’s remaining COVID-19 travel restrictions will be eliminated effective Oct. 1, 2022, you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from across this country’s travel industry.

Finally, after 931days – feels like a lot longer, doesn’t it? – Canada’s COVID-era of travel will be over. Good riddance.

From random testing for arrivals, to ArriveCAN, even to the mask mandate: all will be dropped. The order-in-council expires Sept. 30 and it won’t be renewed.

That’s assuming of course that a rise in cases this fall and winter doesn’t prompt a return to testing, masks and the like. It’s a thought that has crossed the minds of many in the industry.

Never say never, but even the government seems reluctant to return to those days.

Asked about the possibility of travel measures coming back, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said: “No one wants that to happen.” But he held the line on the federal government’s stance throughout the pandemic: that it will do whatever it takes to keep Canadians safe. “We will leave open all possible options,” he said.

Meanwhile ACTA has proactively rung the alarm bell. While there’s relief that the last of the restrictions are lifting, “there remains deep fear that new and ineffective measures will be re-introduced during the fall and winter respiratory illness seasons,” says ACTA President Wendy Paradis.

ACTA’s message came in the wake of a new report, ‘Evaluating Canada’s Pandemic Border and Travel Policies: Lessons Learned’.

A Sept. 23 overview of that report, presented by the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable just ahead of the government’s Sept. 26 announcement, concluded that border measures have been largely ineffective at stopping variants of concern from entering and spreading across Canada and are unlikely to be effective in the future.

The report also concluded there is no convincing evidence that pre-departure and on-arrival testing and surveillance had a significant impact on local transmission in Canadian communities.


MASKS NO MORE

The fourth and final finding from the ‘Lessons Learned’ report concluded that travellers were getting the short end of the stick when it came to mask mandates.

That mandate will drop too, on Oct. 1.

Lesley Keyter, CEO and founder of Calgary-based The Travel Lady Agency, says: “Getting all masked up on the flight and then food and drinks come around and people take them off … even though we are in an enclosed space sitting all very close together. It all seems to be a bit futile.”

Keyter adds that at the height of the pandemic, she wore two masks when travelling by air: “very uncomfortable but I felt that was necessary at that time.” And she wasn’t alone. But these days, mask usage has dropped drastically, even when it’s still mandated. “I was surprised to enter Calgary Airport and note how many people were not wearing masks – only when it got to the security area were those people told to wear a mask and in some cases given a mask,” says Keyter. “Even then, many don’t wear them properly.”

She adds: “I think there will be some people who will continue to wear masks of their own accord, perhaps because of their own vulnerability or that of their family.”

In the Sept. 26 press conference, Minister Duclos said masking is “a relatively easy measure” that Canadians can take to protect themselves from COVID, while acknowledging the “difficulty and pressures” experienced by the airline industry in getting passengers to mask up. “We have heard from the industry,” he said.

WestJet has been among the most vocal proponents of dropping the mask requirement, saying that mask compliance has been a major factor in disruptive behaviour onboard its aircraft.

Jennifer McPherson with Turnkey Travel – Travel Only in Brantford, ON, says she has “definitely seen people’s attitudes towards masks changing this year.” She has some clients who will not wear a mask unless it’s mandatory, versus the majority of her clients who she says will continue to mask “because they do not want to get sick on their holiday.”

Interesting dynamics played out on McPherson’s recent 10-day, 40-person coach tour of Ireland. She hosted the trip. As she recounts to Travelweek: “Even though mask wearing was recommended on the coach, most did not wear one at the beginning of the trip. Whether they simply did not like the inconvenience or felt peer pressure, guests chose not to wear a mask while on the bus. By mid-trip, we could hear that more people were coughing and perhaps catching colds, but with COVID, it can look and sound the same. Quickly, more of the guests started to mask up and I found it curious when one guest remarked “Oh, are we doing masks now?”

Jamie Milton, co-owner of Uniglobe Carefree Travel in Saskatoon, SK, says clients were “confused and frustrated as they never know when they have to wear a mask and when they don’t. The onus should be placed on the travellers to wear a mask if they wish, or not.”


ARRIVECAN OPTIONAL

Travel advisors were also excited to hear that ArriveCAN will be optional starting Oct. 1.

Says Keyter: “Doing away with the ArriveCAN app is a good thing. I have had numerous clients, albeit in the older demographic, who have struggled with this app. Not everyone who travels is totally comfortable in the digital world and therefore it becomes a very exclusive program.”

Sandy Willett says she expects her Waterloo, ON-area Vision Travel agency will be fielding even more calls and emails from clients looking to get away, now that mandatory use of ArriveCAN is on its way out.

“I know we will get more people booking once ArriveCAN is gone (or optional),” says Willett. “I just had a client who came in to get prices for the Caribbean, she said she will book once ArriveCAN is gone. Without a cell phone it is just too difficult.”

Kathleen Penner with Hamilton, ON’s Plenty of Sunshine Travel says the best news is that travel is truly reopening to everyone.

“With all the restrictions lifted, the world is starting to return to what it once was,” says Penner. “I have had many clients who have been waiting for this day. Previously, the restrictions separated people, and now it puts everyone on the same playing field and on the same level. We all have the right to explore and experience the world. It’s time to get back out and enjoy our vast, wonderful world.”

For more on this story see the Sept. 29, 2022 digital edition of Travelweek here.

 


Got a story idea? Reach out to Editor Kathryn Folliott at kfolliott@travelweek.ca