Canadian travel advisors are cautiously welcoming the Canadian government's plan to end quarantine hotel stays for fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents returning from abroad.
The change in border measures is expected to begin in July, federal officials told media on Wednesday (June 9).
Eligible travellers who have received full vaccine doses at least 14 days before reaching Canada will still have to provide a negative pre-departure PCR test and take a test on arrival.
But they’ll be able to skip Ottawa’s mandatory hotel quarantine stopover, a program that has been in place since February, and self-isolate at home until their test comes back negative, effectively reducing the previous 14-day period.
Though generally viewed as a positive step forward in restarting the travel industry, which has largely been inactive for some 15 months now, not all travel advisors are popping the champagne just yet.
The news, for some, still raises questions and concerns.
Guelph, ON-based travel pro Jakki Prince, “Chief Epic Officer” at Prince Adventures Travel, an affiliate of Travel Professionals International (TPI), called the update a “fabulous step in the right direction.”
However: “Not surprisingly, a lot of power will still be entrusted with individual CBSA individuals, which can raise some valid concerns,” Prince told PAX.
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc said Wednesday that a vaccine certification system will eventually be used for providing proof of vaccination at the border.
However, the platform may not be ready in time for July, he said, hinting that it will be up to Canada Border Services Agency agents to determine if returning travellers have their shots.
Prince is also concerned about how Canadians who are eager to travel will interpret the news.
“I believe this will put pressure on health units from prospective travellers scrambling to get their second doses to align with future travel plans they wish to take,” Prince said.
Travel advisors are in position right now to educate their clients about what the upcoming changes mean, Prince explained, because not everyone reads the fine print.
In fact, just yesterday, Prince received a call from a customer who had their second vaccine dose booked for a date in July, asking her to arrange travel for the following day.
“A reminder for all Canadians,” Prince said, “fully vaccinated means two weeks after receiving the second dose. Not the date you receive the vaccine injection itself.”
But as one who quarantined in a government-approved hotel last March, Prince is happy to see the program come to an end for some.
“Personally, it gives me confidence,” said Prince, who maintains constant communication with prospective clients on her Instagram. “I have international travels already booked for October and December 2021.”
“As a travel advisor, I am bracing for a wave of requests for trips.”
Show us the details
Dave Heron, founder and general manager of Pace Setter Travel & Tours Inc. based in Okotoks, Alberta, isn’t “ordering the champagne” until he sees firm details on how the changes will play out.
“Both provincially and federally, over the past 15 months, goal posts have been moved on more than a few occasions,” Heron pointed out. “Let’s not forget it was only seven days ago that Les Feds announced they were are increasing the penalty for violations of the Quarantine Act from $3,000 to $5,000. Now they’re looking to scrap the program in its entirety.”
Heron is concerned that Ottawa has left the door open for provinces to “throw a monkey wrench into the best-laid federal plans” as the easing of restrictions will depend on local COVID-19 case counts, as Health Minister Patty Hajdu pointed out yesterday.
Still, he views the news as a “positive step towards the resuscitation of our critically-ill travel industry,” calling the existing three-day hotel stopover program a “stumbling block from its inception.”
A "relief to industry professionals"
Calgary-based Tannis Dyrland, owner of Travel With Tannis, an affiliate of The Travel Agent Next Door, said the news of relaxing quarantine for some offers “hope and the ability to confidently look ahead.”
The pent-up demand is real. Dyrland said business was already picking up before Ottawa announced the change. She has booked 17 winter vacations in these past two weeks alone.
The update is “relief to industry professionals and vaccinated travellers,” she said, especially after 15 months of “survival and uncertainty.”
“There still are some frustrations”
TravelOnly’s Nancy Wilson of The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) was happy to see the government announce an adjustment.
However: “It is unfortunate that it took this long and that we are still struggling to get concrete answers on a full plan,” Wilson told PAX. “Now that we are catching up to the U.S. on vaccinations, we should be able to use the data that other countries have gained and create a more targeted plan for reopening.”
“There still are some frustrations.”
The proposed changes won’t apply to partially-vaccinated travellers, tourists or foreign business travellers that aren’t essential workers, which doesn’t bode well for a restart, Wilson pointed out.
“The planes coming into Canada need to be full. Not just the ones leaving,” Wilson said. “Without that, our industry will continue to struggle.”
Wilson said Ottawa should heed the advice of its own expert panel, which has recommended reducing the length of quarantine for partially vaccinated travellers once a negative COVID test result is received.
The government’s failure to release a plan has had a “devastating effect on so many in the travel industry,” Wilson said, “and it’s a shame that with every passing day that decisions are not made, another business is faced with having to close its doors.”
Wilson compared the situation to running a marathon.
“We are nearing the finish line, but we are afraid we are going to pass out just before we cross it,” she said.
ACITA, a grassroots group for home-based and independent advisors that formed in June of 2020, will continue its advocacy efforts by meeting with MPs to educate them about the issues, Wilson said.
“While this was a start, we feel somewhat optimistic that more positive changes should be coming soon,” she said.
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