Travel advisors and executives are sharing their reaction to the Canadian government’s plan to begin easing border and quarantine restrictions for some fully vaccinated travellers starting July 5, effective 11:59 p.m.
The news, announced Monday morning (June 21), means that fully-vaxxed travellers that are permitted to enter Canada will not be subject to the federal requirement to quarantine or take a COVID-19 test on day eight.
Also: fully vaccinated travellers arriving by air will not be required to stay at a government-authorized hotel.
“This is the news we have been waiting for,” travel advisor Caitlin Lajeunesse of Vacations by Caitlin – Independent by Flight Centre, told PAX. “We will have to see what the timeline will be for vacationers, but I think the news of Phase 1 will offer some light at the end of what has been a very long tunnel for travel advisors.”
Lajeunesse noted how there “are still questions to be answered, but this is a start.”
“It's about to get very busy,” Lajeunesse said. “I have more than 75 new bookings on the calendar and the demand is growing stronger every week. Get ready, travel pros. The boom is near!”
As part of the changes, all travellers entering Canada must be asymptomatic upon arrival and must provide contact information, as well as proof of vaccination through the ArriveCAN app before arriving at the Canadian border.
The ArriveCAN app is a mobile tool, launched last year, that requires travellers to submit their contact information, COVID-19 symptom self-assessment and quarantine plan before boarding their flight to Canada.
Travellers must still present a suitable quarantine plan, and be prepared to quarantine, in case it is determined at the border that they do not meet all of the conditions required to be exempt from quarantine.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, at a press conference on Monday, said the Government of Canada will continue to "strongly advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel."
"Although the future is looking brighter than it has for a long time with COVID-19 cases on a downward trend and vaccination efforts going well across the country, we can’t let our guard down," Blair said in a statement.
Travel restrictions for foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, will remain in place until at least July 21, Blair added.
But what’s the plan?
Zeina Gedeon, CEO of Travel Professionals International, called the update “good news.”
However: “They’re just giving us bits and pieces,” she said, speaking to PAX over the phone. “The government still doesn’t have a plan."
“It’s embarrassing that a country like Canada can’t get it’s shit together.”
Gedeon stressed the need for Ottawa to release a concrete strategy for reopening the Canada-U.S. border and the travel and tourism economy in general – “so some twenty-five thousand travel advisors don’t end up going bankrupt,” she said.
The Canadian government, on Friday (June 18), announced that international travel restrictions and the ban on non-essential travel at the Canada-U.S. land border will be extended until at least July 21.
Kemi Wells, founder and president of Wells Luxury Travel, said Monday's news was “incredibly welcomed,” calling it a “massive step in the right direction to help our industry and patient Canadian travellers who will finally be able to get excited about the reality of travelling again in the near future!”
Wells noted that more details are needed and that the rules will likely continue to evolve. “But I do believe this is a day to celebrate!” Wells told PAX.
Gregory Luciani, president and CEO of TravelOnly, called the changes “life-saving news for the travel and tourism sector that couldn’t come soon enough!”
“Thankfully, our American friends pressured the Trudeau government to make the move today,” Luciani told PAX. “Canada’s bloated and inexperienced bureaucracy has proven to be an Achilles heel during the pandemic.”
“I hope we learned our lessons to ensure this never happens again.”
Some requirements remain
Under the new policy, fully vaccinated travellers will still need to meet some requirements, including pre-departure and on-arrival PCR testing.
There are no changes to Canada’s current border measures for travellers that haven’t received a full COVID-19 vaccine.
In other words, unvaccinated travellers will still be required to book a three-night stay at a government-authorized hotel before their departure to Canada.
To be labelled “fully vaccinated,” a traveller must have received the full series of a vaccine — or combination of vaccines — accepted by the Government of Canada at least 14 days prior to entering Canada.
The update comes as Canada, over the weekend, passed a key threshold in COVID-19 vaccination numbers.
The target for easing border measures is to get 75 per cent of Canadians vaccinated with the first dose and at least 20 per cent vaccinated with a second dose, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters last week.
“This is the first step in getting back to normal and I am very excited with this announcement,” said Flemming Friisdahl, founder of The Travel Agent Next Door, who wasn’t surprised by the news given that 76 per cent of eligible Canadians have now had one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and 22 per cent have had two shots.
Christine James, vice-president, Canada at TL Network added that it is “long-awaited news” for Canadians that have been planning to travel abroad.
“Not only is the waiving of the mandatory hotel quarantine and self-isolation for 14 days a significant step forward for fully vaccinated travellers,” James said, “but also the introduction of separate lines at the airports for vaccinated travellers.”
Changes coming to airports
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, on Monday, said the government is working to establish “separate lines” at airports for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers to ensure a “smooth movement” of traffic.
"This means, on arrival, we can quickly sort passengers based on vaccination status and get them to the appropriate screening checkpoints, efficiently and safely,” Alghabra said. “This means shorter lines, shorter wait times and getting out of the airport faster.”
Transport Canada will also be eliminating pre-departure temperature screening for international travellers coming to Canada, Alghabra said.
Welcome news for destinations
The easing of travel restrictions will undoubtedly kickstart Canadian business in destinations that are currently welcoming tourists.
In a statement to PAX, Angella Bennett, regional director, Canada at the Jamaica Tourist Board, said the organization was "pleased" to hear the government's news, calling it "an important step in easing restrictions for Canadian travellers."
"The elimination of quarantine measures for fully vaccinated passengers will give Canadians more freedom and confidence to fly internationally and rediscover the magic of travel," Bennett told PAX. "With these relaxed rules coming into effect in July and regular flights resuming into Jamaica in the coming weeks, we are very excited to begin welcoming Canadians back to the island.”
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