TORONTO — The timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic includes a date here in Canada that no one in the travel industry will ever forget: March 13, 2020.
On that Friday, just before schools in many provinces shut down for March Break – and just before one of the typically busiest weeks for airports across the country, including Toronto Pearson – the federal government announced Canada’s blanket travel advisory against all non-essential travel.
By the next Monday, on March 16, Prime Minister Trudeau told Canadians: “Let me be clear: If you are abroad, it is time to come back home.”
Two years into the pandemic, we sometimes forget the initial chaos, confusion and uncertainty in those first days and weeks.
For travel advisors and the travel industry, March 2020 was a blur of exhausting overtime, frantic phone calls and emails, repatriation flights and cancellation after cancellation.
One year later, March Break 2021was postponed, in Ontario at least, in hopes of stemming the tide. Much of the country and the world were gripped in the second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. With millions of Canadians scrambling to get their first vaccination shots – and with sun flights suspended for the rest of the winter anyway – travel was barely on the radar in spring 2021.
And now here we are, just weeks away from March Break 2022. The omicron surge is subsiding and there are increasingly insistent calls for the elimination of pre-departure and on-arrival PCR test requirements. More kids are fully vaccinated and isolation timelines have been reduced.
Inquiries are picking up, but will clients follow through and book? We checked in with travel agents, to find out what they’re hearing from clients about March Break 2022.
“Things are picking up, I have quite a few people going away on some cruises soon. I have only had one family move their March Break trip to New Year’s.”
Plenty of Sunshine Travel
“I’m getting a ton of inquiries – in fact I received several today alone. I think families are feeling more and more brave with COVID, especially since so many people were hit with omicron over the holidays. I have many people asking about Mexico and Hawaii for spring break, and several for Europe for the summer. So, tons of quotes are going out, just have to wait and see if families follow through with actually booking.”
Planes, Trains & Kids Travel
“[My] clients have been saying their main deterrent is the PCR testing on return and the potential cost of quarantine. With many of my clients having up to three kids, an already large investment becomes an unrealistic one when adding on PCR testing abroad. I have a large Disney clientele and I have heard from those clients that once PCR testing is dropped they will be booking.”
Carrie Anne Gillespie
“I’m hopeful things will improve with near-term bookings, but most of my bookings are still late Q2 or Q3 2022, with the majority stretching into 2023 and 2024. I always have a discussion [with clients] about current requirements for vaccinated passengers and/or any additional requirements for non-vaccinated children travelling with parents, along with rapid and PCR test requirements, and then invite them to check whether their schools have additional requirements beyond the Government ones (as some private or different jurisdictional schools do), [and after that discussion] most clients generally defer plans to the summer.
“Interestingly enough, a western colleague of mine and I have been paying attention to who in our different client bases are booking and travelling right now, and we see differences by region. Atlantic Canadians (and Vancouver island folks) aren’t travelling, and they don’t want travellers to come to them. Ontarians aren’t going anywhere. Quebecers are travelling a little more. Western folks, especially Alberta, seem to be saying ‘we’re going now’.”
Lush Life Travel
“So far I have one family travelling for the actual March Break this year. I focus on Disney destinations and it’s actually completely sold out at Walt Disney World that week now. Many who had that week booked already moved their vacations to summer 2022 or fall 2022 weeks or months ago. Most travel inquiries now are for summer, fall and Christmas 2022 travel. Very few families are comfortable with [testing or quarantine] risks or added costs.”
Pure Magic Vacations
“Our winter schedule here in Saskatchewan is a little different – with the [Family Day] break in February and then Easter break is the middle of April. I’m definitely seeing more inquiries rolling in, and many people who cancelled their January trips are now calling to re-book for March. The issue now is that Sunwing has canceled most of our winter schedule from mid-March onward so there is very little to choose from for direct flights to sun destinations so it’s a bit of a challenge. I’ve definitely noticed a shift in the past two weeks – most people have recovered from COVID or watched those around them get it and recover quickly and now there is a lot less fear surrounding travelling. I think things will continue to look up from here on out.”