TORONTO — An overwhelming 63.9% of Canadians are in favour of reopening the Canada-U.S. border, according to Travelweek’s 2021 Consumer Survey, which has revealed several telling trends and key insights into how the global pandemic has impacted Canadians’ views on travel and safety.
Launched in June 2021 in partnership with Star Metroland, the survey garnered 2,599 responses from Canadians across the country. In addition to being supportive of reopening the border, the majority of respondents said that Canada’s ongoing restrictions are severely impacting their travel plans, with 94.9% saying they do not see themselves travelling while the 3-night hotel quarantine remains in place, and 92.2% saying they will not travel overseas with Canada’s advisory against non-essential travel still in effect.
Though the federal government recently announced the easing of travel restrictions, it will be done gradually, in phases, as Canada’s vaccination rollout continues. The Canada-U.S. border will remain closed until at least July 21, while the 3-night hotel quarantine will lift on July 5 for fully-vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents only.
“The Government was quick to act to close the borders, which was the right thing to do at the time, but unfortunately they were very slow to provide any form of a roadmap to recover, to the point there is still a lot of uncertainty,” said David Green, VP Commercial and Manager Director for Canada, G Adventures. “This means travellers are reluctant to book, which in turn has a devastating effect on the travel and tourism industry in Canada.”
Green added that with the continued rollout of Canada’s vaccination program, an undertaking he said the government should be applauded for, it’s now time to open the borders. Prime Minister Trudeau had previously said it would take 75% of Canadians getting vaccinated before restrictions can be lifted.
“Within the next couple of weeks, it’s highly likely that we will meet the 75% threshold of all Canadians being fully vaccinated, so the risk has been considerably reduced,” said Green. “I hope that the Government recognizes the need to support the industry beyond the current measures, which, quite frankly, have not been good enough.”
Here are more highlights from Travelweek’s 2021 Consumer Survey:
BOOKING & TRAVEL TRENDS
When asked whether they would be willing to book travel in 2021, 40.6% of respondents said they are waiting to see how the situation unfolds, while 15.7% are already researching possible destinations. Another 15.3% said they will not travel until they’re vaccinated and 13.1% said they are not interested in travelling at this time.
As for what will be the most important consideration for when they do book travel, a majority 51.8% cited Flexible change/cancellation policies, something Green says is more important than ever before. Just last week G Adventures announced its ‘Book with Confidence’ policy, which allows travellers to cancel and rebook their trip up to 14 days prior to departure.
The pandemic has also impacted travellers’ decision-making with regards to where to travel. Over a third of respondents (34.7%) said they would travel within Canada once restrictions lift, which is in line with industry experts citing pent-up demand for domestic trips.
Speaking exclusively with Travelweek, Zeina Gedeon, President & CEO of TPI, says that the organization is actually seeing much higher numbers for home-grown vacations.
“In December when the government implemented new testing procedures for international travel, we saw a surge of bookings for travel within Canada and that trend continues,” she says. “Our advisors themselves are also exploring Canada and have been on several trips with our preferred suppliers. They have been using social media to promote domestic travel and to build excitement for their customers.”
Beyond Canada, 19.7% of respondents said they’d prefer travelling to the United States while 18.1% hope to head to the Caribbean once travel opens up. In terms of what kind of trip they’re hoping to take, 46.9% said Beach Vacation, followed by History & Culture (15.4%) and Cruise/River Cruise (13.1%). And to reflect the growing demand for ‘bubble’ vacations, in which families and friends travel within their social bubbles, 59.1% of respondents said they are more likely to book a private tour post-pandemic.
“Safety is going to be a primary decision-making factor for travellers moving forward. We are working with many suppliers to customize trips for smaller groups,” adds Gedeon. Take G Adventures, for example. They have a program, ‘Book Your Bubble Collection,’ which is doing amazingly well with our advisors. Looking at advance bookings, we are seeing a lot of small groups. But what’s also surprising is that we are sizing large groups too – go figure!”
VACCINATIONS & TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
Canadians are in full support of the country’s vaccination program, with an overwhelming 94% of respondents saying that they plan to get vaccinated once eligible. Among those who do get vaccinated, just over 60% said they will feel uncomfortable travelling with those who are not vaccinated. Even more telling, 55.8% said that they will travel again so long as the majority of the population of the destination they are travelling to is vaccinated and safety protocols are in place.
It’s not surprising then that a majority 53.5% of respondents are “fully in favour of vaccination passports for international travel,” with another 32.1% saying that while potentially a complicated issue, the requirement is the “best available means for restarting travel post-pandemic.” Just 5.4% strongly disagreed with the idea of vaccination passports, saying they will not travel if that’s what’s required.
Last month, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a 2-track proof of vaccination system, with the first track set to be up and running in the coming weeks, via Canada’s ArriveCAN app.
In addition to a federally-backed verification system, a growing number of travel companies have announced their own proof of vaccination policies, including major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and Crystal Cruises, and tour operators like Globus family of brands.
When asked whether G Adventures will one day require proof of vaccination, Green says that although he can’t reveal too many details at this time, “we are considering all options in terms of the concerns fully vaccinated travellers might have.”
He adds: “At the same time we need to consider that many younger travellers may not have yet had access to a vaccine, so testing is their only solution to travel until they are vaccinated and we want to remain inclusive to all travellers.”
TRAVEL DEMAND & TRAVEL AGENTS
The industry has been saying it all along, that pent-up demand for travel has been at an all-time high. With 54.9% of respondents foreseeing travel restrictions easing in fall 2021, close to 60% (59.7%) said they hope to travel outside of Canada this year, even if they haven’t made a booking yet. And even better news? 63.5% have saved money throughout the pandemic that they say may be allocated towards future travel, and a majority 39% said they hope to travel 1-3 months after travel restrictions are lifted.
“This is in line with research we conducted pre-vaccine rollout, and we are seeing a huge tide of bookings since the announcement of hotel quarantines being lifted for vaccination travellers,” says Green.
And once all these travellers are ready to book, Travelweek’s survey indicates that the majority of them (58.8%) will be doing so with a travel agent.
Gedeon, who has long been a proponent for travel agents, says that if there can be a silver lining to this whole pandemic, it’s the fact that agents are now considered as playing a crucial role in the booking process.
“It is ironic that it took a pandemic for people to realize the importance of working with a trusted travel advisor, but now that they have, there is no going back,” she says. “Our advisors now believe in the value that they bring and are now charging service fees to match the work they do. Do we not pay financial advisors and real estate agents a fee? Many of the advisors in our network have started charging fees and their clients aren’t even questioning it because they now realize how important it is for them to trust an expert in the travel industry who understands their needs and is there to guide them through every step of their planned vacation.”
Look for results from Travelweek’s 2021 Travel Agent Survey later this week in Travelweek Daily.