The travel industry was a slushy mess at the start of 2022 as mass flight cancellations in Canada and the United States – brought on by nasty weather in select regions and the rising Omicron COVID-19 variant – crippled flight networks across the board.
It was a cold and bitter way to start the year as Omicron ushered in a wave of renewed uncertainty for the travel industry, strengthening travel restrictions, and forcing airlines to review and cancel seasonal routes.
Some cruise lines, that January, were also forced to cancel voyages as Omicron-related cases rose and restored restrictions took hold.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) was frustrated by how the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at the time, was advising people against going on cruises, regardless of their vaccination status.
Meanwhile, Air Canada was shouting fake news that month after a Caribbean-based news outlet falsely reported that the airline was going to suspend all service to Mexico and the Caribbean.
As it turned out, the outlet that published the error was sourcing a press release from January 2021, not 2022, and even though a clarification was issued, the messaging only fuelled more frustration among travel advisors, who were already dealing with an influx of cancellations at the time.
Sunwing was also making global headlines after officials blasted a group of rowdy vacationers flying from Montreal to Cancun who drank an open bottle of liquor, smoked a vape and partied without masks on a chartered Sunwing plane (and bragged about it on social media).
For the passengers on board the now-infamous party plane, it was a lesson in reading the room as many were roasted and shamed on social media for their actions.
Outside of air travel, securing reliable government aid for travel agents and agencies was an ongoing pain point in January – especially for independent travel advisors.
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), endorsed by the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) and Canadian Travel Agents for Change, pitched a solution to Ottawa called the “Independent Travel Agent Relief Program” (ITARP) aimed at creating equity between ITAs and other travel and tourism small businesses.
(ITARP, in the end, didn’t pass following the 2022 federal budget reveal, which marked an end to government COVID-19 support programs).
Calls for the easing of Canada’s travel restrictions were also heating up that month.
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable began urging Ottawa to redeploy the PCR tests it used for the on-arrival testing of fully-vaccinated, asymptomatic and previously negative travellers into Canada for community use.
One month before, in December 2021, the Canadian government announced additional measures to contain the spread of Omicron.
This included the increase of on-arrival PCR testing for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from destinations other than the U.S. and isolation until test results were received.
But on-arrival testing, come January, was subject to greater scrutiny.
Even Canada’s top doctor, Dr. Theresa Tam, began to cast doubt on the value of on-arrival testing for international air travellers, calling the policy on Jan. 14 “a capacity drain on the system as a whole.”
Meanwhile, incidents of Canadians being forced to quarantine in destinations after testing positive for COVID-19, amid the Omicron wave, were becoming more common, posing new challenges to travel advisors as they helped their clients navigate their way through the system.
But despite Canada’s non-essential travel advisory and the fear of Omicron spreading, hundreds of thousands of Canadians still packed their bags and travelled abroad, according to Statistics Canada.
January also marked the beginning of the end of Crystal Cruises (as we once knew it) after parent company, Genting Hong Kong, suspended all future sailings after running out of cash.
The luxury cruise line, the following month, shut down operations, only to be scooped up later by A&K Travel Group Ltd., a travel company owned by Geoffrey Kent and Heritage.
A&K, in June, said Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, which were seized by U.S. marshals, would sail again in 2023 following “extensive refurbishment.”
February began with an update from ACITA, which had, arguably, emerged as one of the most influential travel advisor advocacy groups to form during COVID.
Following a demanding year of virtual meetings with political decision makers and advocacy campaigns, ACITA’s co-founders – Brenda Slater, Nancy Wilson and Judith Coates (who later left the volunteer-run organization in July) – unveiled new branding, as well as petitions that called for the removal of pre-arrival PCR testing.
Canadian airlines, without a concrete plan from Ottawa, continued to face uncertainty in their operations, extending schedule reductions where necessary.
February, however, was a positive month in other parts of the world as Australia announced that it would open its borders to vaccinated tourists, ending some of the world's strictest and longest-running travel restrictions.
This month was also when the Roundtable started receiving support from Canada’s medical community, securing testimonials from two doctors who argued that COVID-19 testing at the border was an obsolete measure.
It was also around this time that some cruise lines ended their face mask policies in areas on board their ships that, at the time, were reserved for vaccinated passengers.
By mid-February, Canada’s travel situation started looking up after the Canadian government announced that fully vaccinated Canadians who travel abroad, as of Feb. 28, would no longer have to take an expensive molecular (PCR) test to return home.
Travellers would be allowed to use quicker, cheaper antigen tests instead, which was welcome news, but not entirely embraced by the travel industry as many argued that testing, in general, deterred people from travelling.
Around this time, the U.S. CDC moved cruise travel to a Level 3 health notice due to a drop in COVID-19 cases on ships.
The agency also introduced a new voluntary COVID-19 program for cruise ships sailing in U.S. waters, which many brands supported.
While all of this was happening, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported a growing momentum in the recovery of air travel as more restrictions lifted globally.
The European Travel Commission (ETC), at this time, also predicted that tourist arrivals would be just 20 per cent below pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
The month ended with one loud and sounding call: that fully vaccinated Canadians and inbound visitors should no longer be subject to out-of-pocket testing expenses and outdated measures when returning home.
There was also industry reaction to Russia’s violent invasion of the Ukraine on Feb. 24 as cruise lines and tour operators, like G Adventures, announced that they would remove visits to Russia in 2022.
March began with major breaking news: that WestJet was nearing a deal to acquire Sunwing, a claim that was later confirmed by both airlines.
The deal, still subject to regulatory approval, was positioned as one that would create more jobs, more choice and lower prices.
But Canada’s Competition Bureau saw it differently, determining in October that the transaction would likely result in a “substantial lessening” or prevention of competition in the sale of vacations to Canadians.
But both Sunwing and WestJet defended the transaction (and it appears there were even some inaccuracies in the Competition Bureau’s report).
Nonetheless, a final decision on the sale will soon be made by the Governor in Council based on recommendations from Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.
Then came another question mark: was Edmonton-based ultra-low-cost carrier Flair Airlines, Canadian?
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), in March, began investigating the airline’s ownership, reviewing Flair's compliance with laws that limit the control a foreign investor can have in a domestic airline.
The story made headlines for several weeks, and Flair soon made changes to its shareholders agreements, which later satisfied the CTA, determining in June that the airline was, in fact, a Canadian one.
In October, a report claimed that Flair was now in talks to go public through a merger with New Vista Acquisition Corp, a blank check-firm backed by a former Boeing Co. CEO. (Although this hasn’t yet been confirmed).
March was also when Canadian airlines began unveiling summer schedules that restored many routes that were active in pre-pandemic times.
Then came a big one: on March 17, federal officials announced that Canada’s pre-arrival COVID-19 testing would end for all fully-vaccinated travellers entering the country.
The change went into effect April 1 – April Fool’s Day (which led some to question if the update was actually true).
Randomized on-arrival testing (without having to quarantine while awaiting results) remained, however.
And unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated travellers would continue to receive a PCR test on arrival, and again on day eight, while in quarantine for 14 days.
And there was still no word on whether if (and when) the vaccine mandate would end.
Still, this was a win for the travel industry as it levelled the playing field with other countries who had already dropped testing requirements.
The news also unfolded as new airlines in Canada were starting to hatch, like Calgary-based Lynx Air, which announced its Toronto expansion in March.
Canada Jetlines was also waiting in the wings, unveiling its first A320 aircraft at Waterloo airport that same month.
And it was a time of growth for hotels – Hyatt Hotels Corporation, for one, announced a plan to open 48 new hotels across the Americas in 16 new markets in 2022 and 2023.
This included expansion stemming from the company’s acquisition of Apple Leisure Group (ALG), which was completed in 2021.
Optimism was in the air by month’s end as Air Canada, sharing its full-year outlook, announced its intention to reach 90 per cent of its pre-pandemic capacity by summer and restore 41 North American routes.
Conditions in the cruise sector were also improving as the U.S. CDC, on March 31, removed its COVID-19 notice against cruise travel.
As well, greater conversations were happening about how to rebuild the travel industry in a more equitable, diverse and inclusive way.
March was, notably, when Celebrity Cruises launched the first open-source library of images – called the "All-Inclusive Photo Project” – featuring individuals from underrepresented groups.
The tool – the first of its kind – urged travel companies to address the lack of diversity in marketing imagery.
The news added to conversations that were already happening in Canada thanks to organizations like Let's Get Uncomfortable (LGU), which had been hosting virtual panel discussions that addressed the realities of anti-Black racism in travel and tourism.
With pre-arrival testing for vaccinated travellers in the past, April saw travel advisors reporting improved sales and restored confidence among their clients.
But another headache was lurking in the shadows: passport renewals.
The demand for new and updated passports was returning to pre-pandemic levels, and already the Government of Canada was trying to simplify the process.
This dramarama dragged on for several months, well into summer, as reports claimed that tired Canadians were camping outside on the street to hold their place in line for a new passport.
April, also, was a significant month in that it marked the end of government COVID aid programs.
“The time for extraordinary COVID support is over,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland proclaimed on April 7, tabling the 2022 federal budget.
This announcement didn’t sit well with everyone in the industry.
ACITA, for one, expressed anger over the decision, as independent travel advisors had largely been without sector-specific help (despite being among the hardest-hit entrepreneurs) since the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) ended in October 2021.
During the pandemic, programs such as the CEBA, CERS, CEWS and RRRF excluded many hard-hit small businesses.
And ITAs hadn’t received the same level of support as storefront travel agencies, who were able to use wage and rent subsidies to stay afloat.
“We are angry at two years of failed promises,” ACITA told PAX on the day the budget was revealed. “We are angry because we have lost hundreds of independent travel advisors over the past two years.”
The Canadian government, however, made a commitment of $24.8M over two years to support Indigenous Tourism in Canada.
As for air travel, the onboard experience was starting to normalize as multiple U.S. airlines began to make face masks optional following a judge’s ruling.
The EU, the following month, also dropped its mask rules for airports and plane travel within Europe.
Mask wearing, of course, remained a mandatory requirement for air travel in Canada – all the way until October, when the mandate was lifted.
April also saw wider distribution of “The Last Tourist,” a documentary, executive produced by G Adventures Founder Bruce Poon Tip, that reassess how travel can return in a more responsible way.
Tackling topics such as overtourism, community exploitation and animal abuse, while taking aim at the cruise industry, all-inclusive resorts and voluntourism organizations, the film, which screened at trade events across Canada, left an impression on many agents who praised the film’s message.
What’s in a name? A lot, as we learned in May when Travel Professionals International (TPI) announced a new name: “Trevello.”
PAX was first to report on the rebrand while covering the host agency’s national conference in Costa Mujeres, Mexico.
Trevello refers to someone who is a natural leader, independent, individualistic, extremely ambitious, original and courageous – which is “everything that you guys are,” CEO Zeina Gedeon told attendees, adding that other company changes (to technology, for example) were coming.
In May, travel was returning fast and furious, which was a reason to celebrate.
But another challenge was emerging as Canadians, now comfortable with packing their bags once again, began showing up at airports, thinking everything would operate like it did in 2019.
Short-staffed airports and airlines, picking up the pieces of the pandemic, are not light switches, which travellers quickly found out as long lines-up, missed flights and lost baggage plagued facilities – at Toronto Pearson, in particular.
Airport inefficacies and passport delays became advocacy priorities for ACTA and other groups, which called on Ottawa to intervene.
Transport Minister Alghabra initially blamed the longer-than-usual delays at airports on rusty travellers and uneven flight volumes.
But he soon changed his tune, issuing regular progress reports on what Ottawa was doing to reduce wait times at airports, from hiring more Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers to implementing kiosks and eGates in the terminals and launching self-help portals.
These government-issued updates carried on well into summer, which is also when Toronto Pearson airport, for several weeks, was ranked the worst in the world for delays by FlightAware.
It was a tense time – at one point, Peel Regional Police were called into Toronto Pearson to deal with an angry mob of passengers who had blown their lid over lost luggage and wait times.
Later on, in August, Minister Alghabra was hauled into a parliamentary committee meeting and grilled by opposition members over his response to the airport situation, which wreaked havoc on travel for several months.
He defended the government’s actions, blaming COVID-19 and the labour shortages that followed for causing months of disruptions.
“I hope that months from now, Canadians will look back and see their government was taking real action, doing everything we can to address the root causes of the issues,” Alghabra said at the time.
The month of May also saw the confirmation of one major business move: Ensemble was acquired by Navigatr Group.
The merger led to what leadership called a “new Ensemble” – one that combines Ensemble’s strengths in cruise, tour, marketing and data monetization with Navigatr’s technology solutions, such as “ADX” (Agent Digital Experience), a platform that lets travel advisors bundle services into single prices for maximum commissions.
More on Ensemble’s rebranding was revealed at the organization’s national conference in Miami in October.
June began with a month-long extension of what border and travel measures remained. Ottawa would continue to require foreign visitors to provide proof of being fully vaccinated.
The contentious ArriveCAN app – which required all travellers to submit health and flight information, prior to entry into Canada – was still active. So was the government’s vaccine mandate for plane and train travel.
As for the state of air travel, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), amid rapidly rising passenger numbers, began asking Ottawa to pause random testing on arrival at airports.
A temporary suspension was granted until July 1, which is when on-arrival test kits were introduced at major airports.
(The Roundtable, notably, was quick to call this move a step backwards that unfairly targeted tourism).
Then, on June 20, Ottawa relaxed its vaccine mandate for domestic travel by plane and train and for those leaving Canada by air.
(Existing vaccination requirements for foreign nationals, as well as quarantine and testing requirements for unvaccinated Canadians, remained though).
Mayors and businesses at the Canada-U.S. land border, meanwhile, intensified their calls for the government to scrap ArriveCAN, calling it inaccessible and damaging to the economic recovery.
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) that month also unveiled new rules for air passenger protections.
The update stated that refunds would be provided for cancelled flights or lengthy delays in all types of situations outside an air carrier’s control and regardless of the type of ticket that was purchased.
The new rules took effect in September.
In the hotel and tour operator space, June saw two big stories: Sandals opened its first property in the Dutch Caribbean, Sandals Royal Curaçao, and Sunwing revealed that its hotel management company, Blue Diamond Resorts, had taken over all 11 hotels in Cayo Largo, Cuba.
June was also when ACITA celebrated two years of fighting for fairness on behalf of independent travel advisors.
By now, the dialogue between ACITA, its members and Canada’s politicians had led to many impactful campaigns that, for instance, resulted in the words “independent travel advisor” being spoken in the House of Commons for the very first time.
July saw waves of change as the travel industry navigated its way towards recovery.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, for one, announced that it would no longer require guests to complete pre-cruise COVID-19 testing unless required by local regulations, removing a major barrier to cruising.
It was also tee-rific month to socialize: ACTA resurrected its travel industry golf tournament – its 32nd edition – after pausing the fun, in-person affair for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. CDC also ended its COVID-19 program for cruise ships in July.
But it was also a month of technical difficulties as a nationwide Rogers outage suspended wireless, cable and internet services across the country.
As PAX reported at the time, travel professionals, as well as government programs and services, felt the burn as email, transactions and daily processes were interrupted.
Meanwhile, as Canada's backlog of NEXUS applications sat at the near 350,000 mark, a political squabble was unfolding at the Canada-U.S. border, preventing NEXUS enrollment centres from reopening in Canada.
The month ended with Transat A.T. announcing that it had obtained $100 million in additional liquidity after reaching an agreement with Canada Enterprise Emergency Funding Corporation.
August kicked off with the release of a new study from University of British Columbia claiming that border restrictions can keep COVID-19 cases down, but don’t prevent outbreaks from happening.
Airlines, meanwhile, were actively restoring sun and leisure routes that were suspended during the pandemic to destinations across the Caribbean, Mexico and United States.
August was also a big month for Canada Jetlines as it received its air operating certificate (AOC) from Transport Canada, granting approval to launch operations at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ).
Vancouver International Airport (YVR), that month, also welcomed its 10 millionth passenger to pass through the terminal for 2022, marking an important moment in the airport's recovery.
September, arguably, was a real turning point for the travel industry as in-person events, trade expos, product launches and conferences resumed on a mass scale.
ACTA, notably, relaunched its in-person summit, holding events in Toronto, ON, Richmond, B.C. and Laval, Q.C, giving travel advisors direct access to education workshops, inspiring presentations and market insights.
Leisure travel was driving the industry’s recovery at this stage of the pandemic, as Frank DeMarinis, CEO of TravelBrands, told summit attendees during a leadership panel at the Toronto event.
It was, perhaps, the first month of the year where things felt relatively normal – save for ongoing pain points related to the ongoing labour shortage.
Tour operator and airline telephone wait times for travel advisors were also (and still are, to a degree) a rising problem. But overall travel sales were (finally) on a major upswing.
Sunwing also announced that its capacity was returning to pre-COVID levels.
It was also a month for new service as Canada Jetlines hosted its first FAM for travel advisors from Toronto to Calgary, giving the trade a preview of its onboard experience ahead of its commercial launch on Sept. 22.
Lynx announced that it was expanding into the United States, adding routes from Canada to Orlando, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Then, on Sept. 26, everything changed: the Government of Canada announced an end COVID-19 border restrictions, including mandatory vaccinations and random on-arrival testing.
The ArriveCAN app was made optional. So was mask wearing on planes and trains. The requirement for unvaccinated Canadians to isolate upon returning to Canada no longer applied.
And Canada’s cruise measures were lifted – travellers no longer had to have pre-board tests, be vaccinated, or use ArriveCAN.
The changes kicked in Oct. 1 and came as the World Health Organization announced that deaths from COVID-19 were at their lowest since March 2020 as vaccination rates climbed.
Mandatory ArriveCAN may have been scrapped, but the app’s astronomical price tag was now in the public eye.
In October, it was revealed that the original version of ArriveCAN cost $80,000, but due to multiple updates, call centre costs, employee benefits, cloud hosting services and upgrades that ensured the platform was accessible to people with disabilities, that figure was set to balloon to $54 million by March 2023.
The app was later subject to a parliamentary committee hearing, which continues to drag on after Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) missed a deadline for submitting invoices related to the development of the border application.
Recently, it was reported that fewer than one fifth of international arrivals to three of Canada's busiest airports used ArriveCAN in the first month after it was made optional.
The app, now, is primarily used for filing out a CBSA declaration form before arriving at customs (which is optional).
October was a month of celebrating new alliances as Air Transat and Porter officially launched their bilateral codeshare.
Then Air Canada announced international expansion with new Europe routes and restored flights to Asia.
The fall season was big for ship inaugurals, too, as Norwegian Prima and Celebrity Beyond both made their North American debuts.
Major cruise lines, around this time, also began to drop their onboard mask policies.
ACTA, faced with a changed industry, shared its new priorities, such as advocating for increased funding for labour support, loan deferrals and forgiveness, an improved traveller experience and equitable practices between travel agents and suppliers.
November was about new beginnings – at least for one major hotel chain.
Speaking to PAX at its Gourmet Inclusive Vacation Consultant (GIVC) event in Mexico, Karisma Hotels and Resorts revealed that it would be returning to Canada with an on-the-ground support team (the brand pulled out of Canada back in 2019).
Two business development managers will be hired in Canada, said Frank Maduro, president of Premier Worldwide Marketing, the worldwide sales and marketing representative for Karisma. Their names (and locations) will likely be announced soon.
A trend in cruising also surfaced: Norwegian Cruise Line became the first cruise line to announce that it will pay travel advisors commission on non-commissionable fares (NCFs) – starting Jan. 1, 2023.
Since then, other brands, like American Queen Voyages, have followed suit. But not all are on board with the idea.
Also: the U.S. Department of Transportation, in November, granted Canada Jetlines the authority to serve the U.S. – an allowance that was officially confirmed in December when the FAA gave its blessing.
At the same time, lessons learned from a chaotic summer of air travel resulted in the widespread implementation of new “Express” tools for speeding up security lines at airports.
Ottawa met with Canada’s air sector that month at an inaugural summit to address critical issues still facing air transportation and the industry’s future.
November was also a month of closure as it was revealed that the crew from Pivot Airlines that was detained in the Dominican Republic last spring after millions of dollars worth of cocaine was found aboard a jet would be set free and return to Canada.
The month also saw a major management shakeup at the House of Mouse: The Walt Disney Company announced that Bob Iger would return as CEO to replace Bob Chapek after the company posted lower-than-expected quarterly earnings.
The final stretch of 2022 has been full of exciting activity, which is a contrast to the pandemonium the Omicron variant presented one year ago.
Japan, reopening to mass tourism in October, made headlines this month after WestJet announced it would operate Dreamliner service to Tokyo (its first destination in Asia) from Calgary starting next summer.
WestJet, shifting its focus to Western Canada, also announced increased connectivity with Europe, revealing new routes between Calgary and Barcelona, Spain and Edinburgh, Scotland for 2023.
Cruise lines, like Holland America Line, are also preparing to return to Japan.
Porter, meanwhile, is wrapping up 2022 with major announcements pertaining to its new Embraer E195-E2 aircraft, which will begin serving select hubs across Canada in early 2023.
The airline, which was previously limited to a fleet of Dash 8-400 regional aircraft at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, has also unveiled an elevated economy offering consisting of free Wi-Fi, no middle seats and new, all-inclusive fares.
“Porter is meaningfully investing in making economy air travel enjoyable for every passenger in ways that no one else is," said Michael Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines, earlier this month.
Hope is also on the horizon for Hong Kong tourism as the destination recently scrapped some pandemic-era rules as China moves away from its zero-tolerance COVID approach.
And consumer confidence in travel continues to climb, as one recent survey by Allianz Global Assistance Canada showed that four in ten Canadians are planning to take a vacation this winter.
So travel advisors can expect their phones to keep ringing.
“We are finally in recovery. Travel is booming, and many travel agencies and independent travel agents are back to profitability with bright futures,” as Wendy Paradis, president of ACTA, wrote in an open letter to the industry.
From being a crumbling mess to a shining success, the travel industry has once again proven its strength and resiliency in the face of adversity. It always finds a way. Even if full-circle moments – like weather-related holiday travel delays – creep up once again.
And, oh, Pax Global Media celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. So happy birthday to us.
As for final thoughts to cap off a year of transition and reinvention, we hand the mic over to Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures.
On Dec. 20, it was announced that he has been sanctioned by Russia, which has banned 200 prominent Canadians in a counter move response to sanctions imposed by Ottawa.
In a statement, Poon Tip called Russia’s actions in Ukraine “horrifying” and welcomed the ban against him as it gives him an opportunity to speak out again about the atrocity of the war against Ukraine.
G Adventures was among the first to take a stand on the issue.
“The fact I am now being personally sanctioned in return underpins my commitment to fighting the good fight, though it continues to devastate me that the Russian tourism industry and local communities are the ones impacted by these reciprocal bans when it comes to accessing the benefits of tourism."
“I have always said travel can be the fastest path to peace. It’s only by connecting with other cultures that we can foster connection and understanding between different countries and communities.”
“If I have to be sanctioned to get this message across I’ll wear it as a badge of honour.”
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