Saturday,  July 24, 2021  12:02 am

PHOTOS: Canadian storefront travel agencies reopen to a new world

PHOTOS: Canadian storefront travel agencies reopen to a new world
Canadian travel agencies are adapting to a new world as they gradually reopen.
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 Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

As provinces begin to ease the restrictions that were put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, some storefront travel agencies in Canada are finally now able to reopen their doors for customers.

But it’s a whole new retail world out there as businesses adapt their services to protect the health and safety of their staff and customers.

After all, we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, and the threat of inhaling COVID-infected droplets – whether that be from a sneeze, touching a contaminated surface or simply by speaking moistly to somebody – is still very real.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers are doing what they gotta do to create spaces that not only welcome customers back, but also respect the orders of social distancing, personal hygiene and wearing protective gear.

Many travel agencies are still working out these logistics (again, recognizing that some provinces are ahead of others in easing their lockdown orders).

But some are indeed open for business, or inches away from reopening, with reimagined operations that are putting them ahead of the COVID-safety curve.  

Here’s a few agencies that PAX caught up with to learn more.   


CAA travel consultants have been back in business for some time now.

The company’s five stores in Manitoba were open for several weeks as restrictions there were lifted earlier than in Ontario, for example.

CAA has taken a “phased in” approach to reopening its stores, said Nadia Matos, a media and public relations consultant at CAA.

Staff get ready to greet customers at CAA's recently reopened Kingston Store. (Supplied)

In Southern Ontario, CAA kickstarted its operations by reopening just four stores, at first, in Kingston, St. Thomas, Hamilton Mountain and Vaughan.

Starting on Friday (June 26th), all 36 CAA Stores in the region will reopen, some with modified hours, and all will boast increased social distancing and cleaning measures.

“Associate and member safety is our top priority,” Matos wrote PAX in an email.

CAA’s safety guidelines include:   

  • Providing associates with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This includes face shields for anyone greeting members at the entrance.
  • Introducing disinfectant wipes, sanitizer and plexiglass installations at all workstations.
  • Installing hand sanitizing stations at store entrances.
  • Placing signage, visuals and floor markers to communicate best practices, changes and physical distancing.
  • Training associates on how to safely engage with customers and advise them of safety procedures.
  • Limiting the number of associates and members in the store.    
  • Professionally cleaning retail locations six days/week.
  • Closing all fitting rooms.

Here’s a pic of Irene Schaafsma, a travel services consultant at CAA’s St. Thomas Store, demonstrating her new setup at work.

Irene Schaafsma, a travel services consultant at CAA’s St. Thomas Store. (Supplied)

And here's a glimpse at the new floor markers and signs on display at CAA's recently-reopened Kingston Store.
CAA's Kingston Store: on the left, floor markers advise customers on physical distancing; on the right, new signs are placed on the front doors. (Supplied)

Flight Centre

Flight Centre is another one of Canada's bricks-and-mortar travel retailers, operating 40 stores across the country. 

While stores haven't fully reopened yet (again, due to differing provincial guidelines and as they ensure they have every box checked), the company has, too, drafted new measures for a successful (and safe) relaunch.

Here’s some pics from Flight Centre’s Vancouver Head Office, provided by Allison Wallace, vice-president of corporate communication & CSR, The Americas at Flight Centre Travel Group, that highlight some of the already-introduced protocols.

Flight Centre’s Vancouver Head office now has Plexiglass at front reception. (Supplied)

This includes new signage, seat spacing, Plexiglass at reception and the public placement of extra cleaning products.

FROM A DISTANCE. Seat spacing is now practiced at Flight Centre's head office in Vancouver. (Supplied)

Wallace also shared with us the additional guidelines that Flight Centre will be incorporating into its operations:

  • A training video outlining new procedures and guidelines for employees.
  • A required sign-in for use of desks.
  • Limited/staggered office-hours/schedule to keep a reduced number of people in the office.
  • Required sign-in for everyone entering an office.
  • A modified floorplan with reduced seating at desks and physical distancing in communal areas.
  • Company-provided facemasks and hand sanitizer to all employees.
  • Increased cleaning and sanitization of offices/shops from custodial staff.
  • Continued closures of meeting rooms to avoid large gatherings of people.
  • Maximum capacity limits in meeting rooms to respect physical distancing.
  • Limited use of kitchens and bathrooms by all persons.
  • Reduced capacity of persons in shops at one time.
  • Face masks available to everyone.

KEEPING CLEAN. Cleaning & sanitization products on full display at Flight Centre's Vancouver headquarters (left); right, signage on the doors promote proper handwashing. (Supplied)

Transat Travel (TDC)  

Transat Distribution Canada (TDC) recently announced that it would be reopening more than 25 of its Transat Travel agencies in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

That trend has also started for TDC’s franchises and affiliates throughout the country. (Voyages Transat agencies in Quebec, however, are still closed).

A masked travel advisor greets customers behind Plexiglass in Ontario. (Supplied)

Transat’s Traveller Care program was created to keep customers and employees safe during the pandemic and the guidelines cover the entire agency experience from start to finish.

For example, before a consultation, Transat recommends customers make an appointment before showing up (priority may be given to those who do so).

Customers will be asked to use the hand sanitizer dispenser placed at the entrance and may be required to wear a protective face mask.

Signs are also placed on the agency’s doors to indicate sanitary measures for clients to take.

During a consultation, all agents will wear protective face masks. There will be a limit of one client per consultation and Plexiglas partitions have been installed at agents’ desks.

Signs placed on seats direct visitors away from possible touch points. (Supplied)

There will be no brochures on display (agents can provide brochures to clients on request only) and no iPad stations.

Finally, the payment terminal will be thoroughly disinfected before and after each transaction.

A bottle of hand sanitizer greets guests at an Ontario-based Transat Travel (left); on the right, new door signage note a 3-person occupancy limit. (Supplied)

"The travel professionals in our Transat Travel agencies are very much looking forward to welcoming customers and guiding them in planning their vacation in a new environment that takes into account this new reality that we must all learn to live with," Louise Fecteau, general manager at TDC, said in a recent statement.

For more details on Transat’s Traveller Care program, click here.

This article was updated on Friday, June 26th, 2020 at 2:05 p.m.

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