Monday,  October 3, 2022  7:19 am

Calls to end pre-arrival PCR testing intensify in Banff; Canadians find free tests in U.S.

Calls to end pre-arrival PCR testing intensify in Banff; Canadians find free tests in U.S.
Pete Woods, president and CEO of SkiBig3.
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.

The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable has continued its cross-country campaign to end Canada’s costly pre-arrival PCR testing policy, landing in Banff, Alberta on Tuesday (Nov. 9) to explain how “unnecessary” barriers to travel are threatening the success of Alberta's ski season.

The Roundtable, a cross-Canadian coalition of leaders in the tourism and travel sector, joined local businesses at Mount Norquay in Banff National Park yesterday to call on Ottawa to remove “non-science-based obstacles” to international travel, such as the pre-departure PCR test for fully vaccinated travellers.

The Roundtable is asking the federal government to align its policies for land and air travel to allow the travel and tourism sector to recover fully.

“International travellers are not returning”

Canada first introduced a COVID-19 test requirement for air travellers at the height of the pandemic in January. The government then extended the rule to land travellers the following month.

The rule requires all travellers entering Canada to show proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test taken within 72 hours of their departing flight or arrival at the land border.

Banff has long been a tourist destination for international visitors looking to take in the richness of the Rocky Mountains.

However, since the onset of the pandemic, business operators in Banff who have come to rely on international visitors, particularly during the winter season, are struggling and are at risk of permanent closure.

“Simply put, international travellers are not returning,” the Roundtable said in a news release.

In 2019-2020, Banff National Park lost 300,000 visitors compared to the year prior, according to the Roundtable.

While in the first half of 2021, there were 1.1 million visitors compared to 1.2 million in 2019.

READ MORE: “I, personally, am seeing cancellation after cancellation”: Calls grow for feds to end PCR testing at border

And local tourists don't spend their dollars the same way international travellers do.

"In normal years, Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Mt. Norquay play host to many international visitors looking for an alpine winter escape and good old-fashioned family fun. But this year, we are once again facing a government that seems indifferent to the needs of travel and tourism operators, choosing to impose unnecessary pre-departure tests on fully vaccinated international visitors,” said Pete Woods, president and CEO of SkiBig3.

“This policy has real impacts on Banff and Lake Louise businesses like SkiBig3.”

“Incredibly tough”

The past 19 months have been incredibly tough on Banff's tourism economy, and this winter season is evolving into an even more dire situation, the Roundtable said.

“Ottawa’s imposition of mandatory PCR testing for fully vaccinated travellers keeps international travellers away, leaving Banff's small businesses to fend for themselves,” said the Roundtable.

For the average family, travel to Canada is becoming increasingly difficult.

READ MORE: Canada’s PCR test policy at border “actively being looked at,” says Dr. Tam

The cost of a PCR test can add over $200 per person or an additional $800 for a family of four to visit Canada.

"The PCR test is a major barrier for international visitors hoping to travel across the border,” said Darren Reeder, board advisor at the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta. “The result is that many families – particularly Americans who make up the a significant amount of Banff's winter visitors – are simply choosing to spend their money elsewhere.”

Listen to the panel

Canada's rules run counter to the recommendations made by the federal government's COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel Report, which, last May, concluded that fully vaccinated travellers should not require a pre-departure test.

Canada's travel rules are out of step with the international community.

France, Portugal, Germany and the United Kingdom, for example, have recognized that requiring pre-departure and arrival tests for vaccinated travellers is redundant and have exempted fully vaccinated travellers from pre-departure testing.

“The pandemic, vaccination status, and available science have changed,” the Roundtable said. “So too should the response and measures to keep Canadians safe while allowing the travel and tourism industry to re-open.”

Snowbirds & families impacted

The Roundtable’s campaign to end pre-arrival PCR testing ramped up on Oct. 28 at a press conference in Toronto, where Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), travel advisor Lorraine Simpson and Michael MacKenzie, executive director of Canadian Snowbird Association, explained how pre-arrival testing is impacting the seniors market.

From left: Wendy Paradis, president, ACTA; Lorraine Simpson, Lorraine Simpson Travels; and Michael MacKenzie, executive director, Canadian Snowbird Association speak at a press conference on Oct. 28.

second press conference was held on Nov. 4 to highlight how barriers, like pre-arrival testing, disproportionately impact average Canadian families.

Today (Nov. 10), the Roundtable heads to Vancouver, where the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, the British Columbia Hospitality Association, Destination Vancouver and a local travel agent will, at another press conference, share their thoughts on how pre-departure PCR testing is impacting business in their community.

Last week, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada’s pre-arrival PCR testing policy is “actively being looked at,” although it is unclear if officials are looking to lift the rule at both the land and air borders.

Dr. Tam’s words came just days before the U.S. eased its international travel rules on Monday (Nov. 8), a move that led to the reopening of the U.S. side of the land border.

Free PCR tests in the U.S.?

Meanwhile, a new report from CBC News has revealed that some Canadians travelling in the U.S. are finding ways to get their return-home PCR tests for free.

CBC spoke to six Canadians who recently travelled to the U.S. and managed to get a free molecular test at a pharmacy or clinic before returning home.

As it turns out, in some cases, the free tests are being funded by the U.S. government as part of an initiative to make low or no-cost COVID-19 tests available to all in the U.S.

However, travellers may not be guaranteed a result in time and may not always be able to find free tests in their U.S. destination, CBC found.

Click here to read CBC's entire article.

Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!  Click here to follow PAX on Facebook.