Monday,  November 28, 2022  7:45 pm

“A victorious milestone”: Agents, execs react to Canada dropping COVID-19 border rules, mask mandate

“A victorious milestone”: Agents, execs react to Canada dropping COVID-19 border rules, mask mandate
The travel industry reacts to Ottawa lifting all COVID-19 border measures. (Supplied)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The Government of Canada on Monday (Sept. 26) announced an end to COVID-19 border restrictions, including mandatory vaccinations and random testing, mandatory masking in airports, airplanes and trains, quarantine requirements, and the mandatory use of the ArriveCAN app.

Hallelujah.

The policy changes come into effect this Saturday (Oct. 1).  

“Another brick in the wall to fall!” Gregory Luciani, president and CEO of TravelOnly, told PAX yesterday. “There couldn’t be a better time for this announcement as we approach the winter booking season. It will further fuel demand, which help the entire travel industry recover faster.”

Luciani said “we are living and working through the greatest rebound in the history of our industry.”

Travellers pass through Toronto Pearson airport. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

The industry’s response to Ottawa’s decision to fully reopen travel is mostly positive. In a statement yesterday, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable applauded the news.

The coalition of industry leaders has long advocated for the removal of COVID-19 measures as “they were not rooted in science and were inconsistent with rules governing all other community activities.”  

READ MORE: Border restrictions largely ineffective at protecting Canadians, doctors say

Yesterday’s update aligns with a new report, released last week, called Evaluating Canada's Pandemic Border and Travel Policies: Lessons Learned, authored by four infectious diseases doctors.

“The findings were clear: the federal government's border measures should not be re-deployed for future variants of concerns,” the Roundtable stated yesterday. “As such, [we] continue to encourage the federal government to follow the science and avoid using these tactics in the future.”

"It's about time!”

Zeina Gedeon, CEO of Trevello Travel Group, had nothing else to say except “it’s about time!”

“This is amazing news,” Gedeon told PAX yesterday. “Our industry desperately needs to go back to doing things normally. Our advisors spend countless hours trying to explain to customers all the different restrictions. Now they can spend their time in a much more productive manner.”

READ MORE: Feds lift border vaccine mandates; ArriveCAN & masks optional as of Oct. 1

Gedeon said the demand for travel right now is “incredible.”

The only outstanding issue is for the government to fix some of the operational problems at airports, she said. 

From left: Zeina Gedeon, CEO, Trevello Travel Group; Gregory Luciani, president & CEO, TravelOnly.  (Supplied)

Brian Robertson, president of Vision Travel Solutions, said he was “extremely happy” to see travel restrictions on the way out.

“While they certainly played an important role in managing the pandemic, we felt the government was slow to lift them compared to other governments around the world,” Robertson told PAX.

“As restrictions have been lifted throughout the pandemic, we have always seen an increase in both corporate and leisure travel. We expect the same [outcome] here.”

Transborder corporate travel is big business at Vision and, with lifted restrictions, Robertson expects to see “an immediate spike” in short-term business trips south of the border.

He, too, also noted the strain on travel advisors that will soon be lifted.

Brian Robertson, president of Vision Travel Solutions, a Direct Travel company. (Supplied)

“[Advisors] will be more efficient and, more importantly, they will not have the daily stress of helping clients make the right choices – something that is very personal,” he said. “Travel plays such a critical role in our financial well-being as a member of the global economy, and the removal of restrictions should help bolster the economy at time when it will be well received.”

Nathalie Tanious, chief operating officer of TravelBrands, called the news “a victorious milestone” for the industry.

“While the return to travel has already regained healthy traction, this will provide a tremendous opportunity for the acceleration of the joy of travel for Canadians and incoming travellers,” Tanious told PAX. “Travel signifies growth and transformation, and we’re excited for a full re-opening that showcases the best of our industry with safety, efficiency, and joyousness at the forefront.

Nathalie Tanious, chief operating officer of TravelBrands. (Supplied)

Alexis von Hoensbroech, WestJet Group’s CEO, said the announcement "aligns with the travel policies of other major nations, reflects our industry’s outstanding commitment to safety, and recognizes that air travel is no less safe than any other consumer activity." 

"We are relieved our guests can finally travel with additional confidence and certainty, knowing they can make decisions that are the best for them, and their travel plans won’t be interrupted," he said. 

Air Canada also welcomed the news. 

"We believe it will greatly facilitate travel, help to continue stabilizing the country's air transport sector and support Canada's economy. Customers and crew will still have the option to wear masks and we also encourage customers to monitor their own health to be sure they feel well and fit to travel," said Craig Landry, executive vice-president and COO at Air Canada.

Landry also urged the government "not to lose momentum."

"Lessons learned during the pandemic should now be applied to streamlining the air transport system in Canada and to enact further reforms," he said. 

Time to get cruising

Canada’s cruise measures will also be lifted, federal officials said yesterday.  

Travellers will no longer be required to have pre-board tests, be vaccinated, or use ArriveCAN.

Caroline Hay, president of Cruise CEO, said that while it would have been beneficial for the industry to have amended its protocols during the Alaska season, “we will catch the tail end of a modified season of Canada-New England sailings.

“For the first time in two years and seven months, the government has not subjected cruise travel to different protocols than all other forms of travel!” Hay told PAX.

Caroline Hay, president of Cruise CEO. (Supplied)

She said previous testing restrictions have “certainly been a barrier to booking.”

“As of Saturday, that will all be in the rear-view mirror,” Hay said. “It’s time to focus forward, to ensure clients know the value [agents] can bring to a booking, maximize the in-market promotions that cruise lines have, and sell, sell, sell.”

“Get ready for the travel boom 2.0. At long last, the gates have fully opened!”

Some still recommend ArriveCAN

Ontario-based travel advisor Kim Paquette, a.k.a. “The Travel Queen,” says her clients were already travelling long before yesterday’s announcement was made. 

Still, “lifting restrictions will increase travel,” she said.

Kim Paquette, a.k.a. “The Travel Queen.

“People are reluctant to visit places with restrictions. Canada needs to be at par with the other countries to enjoy the full benefits of tourism,’ Paquette said, noting how most of Europe no longer has COVID-19 measures.

“It’s great to have health and hygiene controls when warranted, but it’s also time to return to the ‘new normal.’”  

As for ArriveCAN, which has faced heighted criticism in recent months, Paquette said she will still recommend the app to clients.  

“I do believe ArriveCAN will still speed up the entry process because everything is already in the computer,” she said.

Vancouver-based Luxury Consultant McKenzie McMillan of The Travel Group said he hasn’t shared in the same frustration as some over ArriveCAN, “but any reduction in ‘speedbumps’ to travel right now is definitely a good thing for our industry.”

Luxury Consultant McKenzie McMillan of The Travel Group. (Supplied)

“While I have not personally found the restrictions to be too limiting or tasking, I know it has been a fairly contentious issue for many, both deservedly and not,” McMillan said. “I think the best that can come of removing restrictions is that life may finally become easier for frontline workers, including flight attendants and ground crew, who have been absorbing the brunt of people’s frustrations around these restrictions.”

“Canada was so behind”

Ontario-based Pauline Blacoe of Shine Travel was “elated” by the news – “mostly because of the masks.”

“Canada was so behind,” she said. “I've travelled extensively in the past few months and never had to wear a mask (except on a Canada-bound plane). I flew from Toronto to Detroit to Seattle back in April (for an NCL cruise in Alaska) on Delta. I had to wear a mask in YYZ, then to board the plane, and mask off as soon as the wheels went up. Then not again until touchdown in Toronto on the way home. It was so silly.”

ArriveCAN was also “never a bother for me,” Blacoe said (except for one time when an airline almost didn't let her board at Heathrow until she filled it out).

Her only “fear” is that some restrictions may come back this winter and “that could be a real buzz kill for all the steps forward we've taken,” Blacoe said.

Calgary-based Tannis Dyrland of Travel With Tannis said most of her clients are already travelling, but Monday’s news “will open it up for those unvaccinated clients as well.”

Tannis Dyrland of Travel With Tannis. (Supplied)

“I also think it will ease the pressure at arrivals, which is needed,” she said.

PAX also asked Ottawa-based Cindy Almond, owner of Romance and Foodie Travel, what she thought of the news.  

Almond is currently vacationing in Italy, where there are masking requirements for public transit, except “nobody is enforcing it and nobody is wearing masks,” she said.

“So, I think if everywhere else has let go of their restrictions, we might as well lift ours. I'll be happy to not have to wear a mask on the flight home,” she said.

Travis Stewart of Stewart Travel Group said his immediate reaction to the news was a sigh of relief and reflection over the past two-plus years. 

"Which of course has been devastating to many in the travel industry and those who love to travel. It seems like it’s a new start," he said. 

"I think for many clients, they are still taking the advice of the Canadian government and now with [Ottawa] saying that they are dropping everything, it will make a big difference in their planning process," he said. "I hope 2023 will be fantastic for travellers and for the travel industry."

Why let it linger?

Dave Heron of Okotoks, Alb.-based Pace Setter Travel & Tours also applauded the news, but “allowing the existing regulations to linger through until Oct.1 makes little sense,” he said.

“Knowing that masking will cease to be a requirement at the stroke of midnight Oct. 1, I can only imagine the fun flight crews will have in their effort to enforce passenger compliance between now and then,” Heron said. “It’s been reported on for over a week now. Simply toss it. Today.”

Dave Heron, founder and general manager of Pace Setter Travel & Tours Inc. (Supplied)

Heron said it’s “a lot like looking in the fridge and seeing a science project growing on the leftovers and deciding, ‘I guess we'd better toss it next week.’”

“It's 'best before' date has come and gone,” he said. “Get rid of it today and move forward!”

Safe to travel

Flemming Friisdahl, founder and CEO of The Travel Agent Next Door, said the update brings Canada in line with the rest of the world.

“This change will give clients the sense that it is safe to travel, because it is, and that you can go away this coming winter with the comfort of knowing it will be safe,” Friisdahl told PAX. “I also do not see the government going back to the way it was, unless something catastrophic happens again.”

Flemming Friisdahl, founder and CEO of The Travel Agent Next Door. (Pax Global Media)

This is something Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), has previously touched on.

“There remains deep fear that new and ineffective measures will be re-introduced during the fall and winter respiratory illness seasons,” Paradis said last week.

She said the federal government “must look at the clear evidence which shows the ineffectiveness of these measures.”

“Now is the time to double down on economic recovery, and only through government-industry cooperation and science-based policy can we rebuild the world’s best travel and tourism economy,” Paradis said.


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