TORONTO — Canada’s eased travel restrictions, announced yesterday and taking effect Feb. 28, 2022, were met with mostly relief and cheers from the travel trade, and in one case, even a few tears of joy.
We’ve been here before – the reopening of travel, the exuberance. This time, it feels like it might actually stick. With dubious thanks to omicron, so many people have either had COVID, or know someone who had COVID, that everyday activities including travel at this stage in the pandemic now seem much more normalized.
And after almost two full years of travel restrictions, to hear the federal government tell Canadians “travel is safe”, it’s enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes.
Yesterday’s announcement from Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, updating Canada’s measures for fully vaccinated travellers, included a four-point revision of the rules…
- First, as of Feb. 28, 2022, there will be a return to randomized PCR testing for travellers arriving at Canada’s airports, the way it was before omicron. Fully vaccinated travellers who have been selected for randomized PCR tests will no longer be required to quarantine while waiting for their test results. For unvaccinated travellers, the usual PCR testing rules and self-isolation requirements still apply.
- Second, travel restrictions will be lifted for unvaccinated children under the age of 12, who are travelling with fully vaccinated adults. Kids will no longer need to wait / self-isolate before returning to school, daycare, camps, etc. These younger travellers will also no longer be subject to testing.
- Third, fully vaccinated travellers now have the option of taking a rapid antigen test, instead of a PCR test, to meet the pre-arrival COVID test requirement. The antigen test must be authorized by the country in which it was purchased, and administered by a lab, healthcare entity or telehealth service. The antigen test must be taken no more than 24 hours ahead of the traveller’s scheduled flight.
- Fourth, the federal government will decrease the travel advisory from Level 3 to Level 2. Travellers must still use the ArriveCAN app.
In other good news, also effective Feb. 28, 2022, all of Canada’s airports will be able to welcome international flights. Currently only 18 of Canada’s airports are open to international flights.
“Today is a great day for Canadian travellers and tourism,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra at the briefing. He also promised an update on cruising soon, and said work is underway to ensure that Canada’s 2022 cruise season would go ahead. The federal government’s ban on cruise ships in Canadian waters lifted in November 2021.
“WE URGE GOVERNMENT TO LIFT ALL PRE-DEPARTURE TESTING REQUIREMENTS FOR FULLY VACCINATED TRAVELLERS”
Granted, yesterday’s update did not do away with pre-arrival testing. The difference is, antigen test results will be accepted along with PCR results.
And there’s still a long road to recovery for Canada’s retail travel trade, especially with most commissions not paid until client departure.
Nevertheless, the travel updates announced yesterday “are important milestones for travel agencies and independent travel agents,” says ACTA President Wendy Paradis.
As a member of the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, ACTA has been advocating for the elimination of pre-arrival and on-arrival testing for more than a year. “While ACTA welcomes this change as an important step forward, we urge the government to lift all pre-departure testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers. Rapid antigen tests are an additional cost and often difficult to procure. All testing requirements create uncertainty and deter travel. There is no scientific basis to single-out travel for testing,” says Paradis.
ACTA is also heartened by the downgraded travel advisory, to Level 2. “This is an important change for the travel industry and also affects the availability of travel insurance. ACTA has been asking that the advisory revert to country specific,” says Paradis. She adds that ACTA is working to confirm whether the Level 4 advisory against all cruise travel abroad will ease in the coming days or weeks.
Travelweek also heard from Louise Fecteau, General Manager, Transat Distribution Canada (TDC). “Finally, with this easing of public health measures, the conditions for Canadian travellers are beginning to be more in line with those of most countries worldwide, and the entire Canadian travel industry will reap the benefits, as it was penalized by these measures,” said Fecteau. “For almost two years, travel professionals have been key players in the recovery, constantly keeping abreast of the various measures in place around the world to guide their clients through the new reality of the travel world. Virus or not, I am confident that people will continue to turn to the reassuring professionalism of travel professionals in the future. This has been the case over the past few weeks, with travel professionals welcoming more and more clients every day, and this announcement will certainly exacerbate that upward trend.”
REACTION FROM FRONT-LINE AGENTS
Travelweek reached out to front-line travel agents in the wake of yesterday’s announcement, to get their take.
The Travel Store owner Paulette Soloman, based in Charlottetown, PEI, says she applauds the Canadian government for honouring the science as it seeks to ensure a return to safe travel.
“We are thrilled with any measures that remove barriers for our clients to travel,” says Solomon. Last Friday’s heads-up from Minister Duclos that an announcement was coming this week already got the phones ringing, she says. “I expect that this will mean a surge in bookings. Even the hint of this happening has increased the number of calls and online requests to our offices in the past few days.”
Solomon says she looks forward to seeing travel measures ease even more in the coming weeks, with testing potentially done away with altogether. “Even a rapid test in destination may be a disincentive for some travellers as there is a cost and inconvenience – although a bit less so now. We very much look forward to seeing how this plays out in the coming days and expect a very positive impact on our business and on travel in general.”
Minister Duclos said yesterday that depending on how things go, further easing of restrictions could happen in the coming weeks, and eventually, testing requirements could be dropped.
Solomon also underlined the importance of the federal government’s financial aid programs, including the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery program. “I hope that government will recognize how important the wage and rent support measures for travel businesses have been, and continue to be, as we ease our way back.”
“GET OUR INDUSTRY BACK ON TRACK”
Sandy Willett at Vision Travel in Waterloo, ON says yesterday’s announcement “is great news for our industry and our clients.”
Noting that the cost of the PCR test has been prohibitive for a lot of people to travel, the antigen test option “is less expensive and less time-consuming and in a lot of places, much easier to get.” Willett adds that when the testing requirement goes away altogether “it will be even better!”
Downgrading the advisory to Level 2 will also encourage more clients to travel and ease their minds and feel more relaxed about it, she says. “Such a relief too for families now that they can take their kids on a holiday and not have to quarantine when they return and miss school and their activities.”
Adds Willett: “It’s been a long two years so any step in the right direction is a GREAT ONE! Hopefully more easing as time goes on will get our industry back on track.”
“BRING BACK MORE OF THE JOY”
Travel advisor Michelle Whalen with Uniglobe Enterprise Travel Ltd. had tears in her eyes listening to yesterday’s announcement, “and when I just let it sink in I started crying. When I heard about the removal of the quarantine for unvaxxed kids under 12 I applauded and threw my hands up in the air. It’s a great cost break that folks can opt for an antigen test upon return as opposed to PCR tests. It’s a step in the right direction for sure.”
And with her location in London, ON, Whalen says she’s especially pleased that they’re allowing more airports to operate international flights. “That’s great news for our Canadian economy, my community’s economy, and our industry.”
The past two years have been an emotional roller coaster, not just for the overwhelming amount of lost bookings and lost jobs, but even for bookings that go ahead, added Whalen. “It takes 5 times the work … and you wonder, is today going to be the day when one of the complex steps goes haywire for one of my clients. I’m holding my breath and constantly checking email to ensure clients seamlessly moved on to the next step of getting through security or getting the PCR results. It can be hard to relax. [Yesterday’s] announcement is a welcome reprieve that will alleviate some effort and stress for us and bring back more of the joy of why we do what we do.”