Real progress on a reopening plan for the Canada-U.S. border, or just the same old routine check-ins?
Blue Water Bridge border United States and Canada crossing | Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario

We asked agents: Are bookings picking up now that the U.S. land border is reopening?

TORONTO — Tony Santelli didn’t have much time at all to enjoy his brand new Tampa Bay-area condo before COVID-19 put a wrench in his plans.

After purchasing the property in November 2019, the Senior Travel Advisor at FunRexAlcyon settled in right after the Christmas holidays with the intention of staying a few months. But then COVID hit in March, setting off border closures around the world, including the U.S.-Canada land border, and forcing Santelli to head home to Montreal early. He hasn’t been back since.

But with the United States now confirming the reopening of the land border on Nov. 8 to fully vaccinated Canadians, Santelli says that he’ll be packing his minivan to head back south “the minute the border reopens.”

If Santelli is this eager to head back to the States, it’s safe to assume that clients are too, which is great news for travel agents heading into the all-important winter season.

“We were ecstatic when we heard the news and we can’t wait for Nov. 8 when President Biden reopens the border,” he says. “Travel will now undoubtedly pick up.”

Ocean Phi Long Le, Travel Manager-Bodad Travel in Toronto, is already fielding calls from clients who want to book a trip across the border, particularly for golf getaways, beach vacations and outdoor adventure trips focused on national parks.

“I’ve received several calls from my clients who were eagerly awaiting the news,” he says. “Most of my clients feel that driving in their own vehicles gives them a better sense of comfort and security, and that they’re able to better manage who they interact with, unlike at the airport where they are in close proximity to other travellers.”

Marianne Vogel, CTC, Owner of Just for You Travel & Consulting in Dundas, ON, tells Travelweek that she breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the border news, but cautions that there are still obstacles to overcome.

“People will be calling to enquire about bookings to the United States, but they’ll be angry about still having to be tested upon their return home to Canada,” she says. “With PCR testing in Florida costing around US$149, it will stop a number of people from going for several days. The cost becomes prohibitive. If they drop the negative testing and only require vaccination status, things will lighten up for sure and start moving again.”

Though the United States won’t be requiring Canadians driving across the border to be tested for COVID-19 come Nov. 8, Canadians will still need to take a molecular test, like the PCR test, to return back home to Canada. (All international visitors, including Canadians, who fly into the United States are, however, required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result within three days of their flight.)

“Hopefully Canada will rethink this testing situation for those fully vaccinated,” adds Vogel. “People do numerous day trips to the U.S. and vice versa but that will become cumbersome and expensive if Canadians are still required to get tested to come back home.”

Testing may still present considerable challenges for Canadians looking to travel to the United States, but there is one new development that will certainly help lessen the burden: the acceptance of mixed vaccines. Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that when the United States reopens to fully vaccinated foreign visitors on Nov. 8, including those flying and driving into the country, people who’ve had doses of two different COVID-19 vaccines will qualify as fully vaccinated. This applies to “any combination” of two doses of a vaccine approved by either the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization, including Oxford-AstraZeneca.

With approximately 3.9 million Canadians having received a mixed combination of vaccines, the news certainly comes as a huge relief to travel agents who’ve been tasked with finding a destination that will allow their clients entry.

Santelli, who says he has several clients who’ve had mixed doses, tells Travelweek that they’re now firming up their travel plans upon hearing the news. He’s also personally impacted as his wife received a first dose of the Indian-made Covishield vaccine and a second dose of AstraZeneca.

Phi Long Le says that his clients are also “thrilled” about the acceptance of mixed vaccines.

“With growing pressure from the government to get vaccines and hearing in the news that many places weren’t accepting mixes vaccines, my clients were worried that their winter plans would be disrupted for another year,” he said. “This brings great news and my clients have started to book their yearly trip to Florida.”