Continuing its campaign to end pre-departure antigen testing for fully vaccinated travellers, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable touched down in Toronto on Thursday (March 10) to show how Canada’s pre-arrival testing rules are decimating business travel and stifling Toronto tourism.
"Travel and tourism are massive economic drivers in our province, and many businesses in Toronto depend on international travellers, particularly business travellers," stated Lindsay Broadhead, senior vice-president, communications and public affairs at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, at a press conference held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“There are many reasons for optimism as we look forward to our economic recovery. It is time to re-establish our position as a welcoming place for visitors by removing obstacles to travel, including the rapid antigen test.”
The Roundtable, which held a similar event on March 2 in Vancouver to demonstrate how travel testing has impacted Indigenous tourism, and the sales of travel agencies, is demanding Ottawa drop testing for fully-vaxxed travellers by April 1, which is when the regulation will be reviewed.
The coalition of travel and tourism leaders point to countries, such as Denmark, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Ireland, and Norway, that have removed this requirement, which the Roundtable calls a “non-science-based” obstacle.
A barrier to business
Pre-arrival testing is having a devastating impact on business travel, the coalition said Thursday.
In 2019, business travel in Canada contributed more than $40 billion annually to the Canadian economy and supported over 600,000 jobs, the Roundtable noted in a news release.
The pandemic has also disproportionally impacted business travel – at the height of the pandemic, business travel dropped close to 90 per cent, representing a monthly loss of $2.9 billion.
Business travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the Roundtable said, saying that the sector is about 30 per cent of 2019 volumes and the federal government's restrictions continue to be a deterrent.
"Pre-departure testing is a barrier to business travel,” said Nancy Tudorache, regional vice-president, Canada of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). “Canada's travel rules complicate business planning, do not permit flexibility or schedule changes, add tremendous uncertainty, hurt productivity, and create financial burdens for businesses looking to send their employees into or returning to Canada.”
The GBTA estimates that business travel in Canada, subject to the federal government's lifting of travel rules, will not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, Tudorache said.
“Toronto is being overlooked”
Patrick Doyle, vice-president and general manager at American Express Global Business Travel, also shared his concerns.
"Toronto is an international hub and world-class destination for big conferences and events. Big conferences and events fuel the local economy and support the city's tourism sector. Toronto is being overlooked as international event planners look to make location decisions for future events,” said Doyle. “The federal government's costly, confusing, and cumbersome travel rules are stymieing Toronto's tourism sector.”
“We are calling on the federal government to lift the remaining travel restrictions and reopen Canada to the world.”
While Ottawa has not announced any official changes to pre-arrival testing just yet, whispers are circulating online that the Trudeau government will be announcing changes soon.
Romain Schué, a reporter at Radio-Canada, tweeted in French on Wednesday (March 9) that he has learned that eased border measures will be announced “in the coming days.”
“We are talking about the end of the tests (PCR or antigen) required to enter Canada,” Schué tweeted, noting that the start date for ending the requirement has not yet been determined.