More than 30% of Canadian snowbirds say they’ll travel this winter

We ask agents: Are snowbirds still travelling this winter?

TORONTO — With winter fast approaching, many in the travel industry are wondering whether snowbirds will stay the course and continue on their holidays, despite the many challenges of the pandemic.

Being 55 years old and older, snowbirds, of course, fall into one of the more vulnerable age categories when it comes to COVID-19. And yet they’re also among the most fervent and reliable travellers, with the available time and income that make them a highly coveted demographic for travel companies and agents.

According to a recent survey by Chicago-based sent to 1,099 participants who typically consider themselves as snowbirds, 74% of adults age 55 and older are still planning to move forward with their migration plans this year. In fact, more respondents are planning to head south this year over last year; 75% said they still plan on snowbirding this winter, up from the 62% who reported migrating in 2019.

Of course, these numbers may differ greatly for Canadian snowbirds who have Canada’s ongoing mandatory two-week quarantine to contend with, not to mention the continued closure of the U.S.-Canada border. As Florida has long been a haven for snowbirds, the odds are certainly stacked against sun-seekers looking to head south for the winter.

Christine James, Vice President Canada at TL Network, tells Travelweek that most clients – including snowbirds – are, for the most part, still in a wait-and-see mode.

“Clearly, not all snowbirds would be willing to travel this winter, it’s a personal decision and everyone has their own comfort zone,” she says. “But the good news is that overall, we’re seeing a modest rise in bookings week over week so we are moving in the right decision.”

James, who isn’t surprised that bookings to Florida are “sluggish” due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in the state, adds that snowbirds are now considering alternative – and safer – destinations, like Portugal. However, she doubts that anyone will be travelling until after the New Year.

Sabine Hajje, Manager at The TravelDesk in Markham, ON, has the same outlook, telling Travelweek that some of her snowbird clients who were looking forward to going back to Florida this past September have now postponed their plans until January in hopes case numbers will have decreased by then.

“Some expressed wanting to travel down south right away, before winter in Canada starts, but their children and grandchildren have advised against them travelling to the U.S. with its high number of COVID-19 cases,” says Hajje. “Most snowbirds own properties in the U.S., like Florida and Phoenix, and are looking forward to travelling to their properties as soon as they are able to.”

Also not seeing much activity from snowbirds is Cheryl Coleman of The Travel Agent Next Door’s head office in Toronto, and based in Springbrook, AB. Though she says her clients are “biting at the bit wanting to plan now,” they remain fearful and are not prepared to travel anywhere in the United States for the time being. She says the Caribbean, most of which has reopened for business, is a good alternative. Coleman herself will be travelling from Calgary to Cancun soon, and plans to document her experience to show her clients that it is, indeed, safe to travel.

But there are travel agents who are seeing some interest from snowbirds, including Carol Murray, President of Your Vacation Home in Concord, ON. She says about half of her snowbird clients are open to travelling down south this winter, with some preferring the Caribbean over the Southern United States. She lists Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica among the most sought-after destinations for those willing to travel at this time.

“I am reassuring them that air travel is safe and easy right now, that airlines have put in place every precaution and that there is very little evidence of any transmission from flights. The resorts and hotels are also following all protocols, and tour operators like Sunwing, WestJet and Air Canada Vacations are stepping up not only with cleaning protocols but also with insurance and flexible booking options,” says Murray. “Our villa suppliers are also following the same safety protocols, and some may feel that this is an even better option since you can rent a property and have a separate, private space away from others.

“In my opinion, there is no reason not to head south this winter if you really feel like getting away,” she adds. “We can cover the options and help guide the client to the right option for them.”

Breaking down the numbers even further is Kim Paquette, Travel Planner with TPI, who says that about 50% of her Canadian snowbird clients from Ontario are heading to Florida this winter, while about 20% of those in the Maritimes are willing to venture to their properties in the Sunshine State.

“Many have already reported back about their arrivals and how it really does not differ from here. Pictures on flights have been sent and they all are pleased with their decision. Several who’ve hired transport companies to take their vehicle across the border have also shared their experiences, with more and more departing this month,” she says

Paquette herself will be joining the ranks come this holiday season – if all goes well, she plans to also be in Florida for the New Year.

“For me, the benefits of receiving the daily sun and warmth outweigh the risk of contracting COVID-19,” she says. “Emotional health is very important in my overall wellbeing.”

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