“There is no doubt COVID-19 is, and likely will be, the most single defining moment in the history of the global travel and tourism industry,” said Jennifer Waver, director of sales and distribution at Manulife Financial, in some opening remarks that kicked off the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies’ (ACTA) 2021 industry summit on Thursday (Sept. 30).
As the travel sector continues to recover from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian professionals gathered virtually, yesterday, to discuss ways of rebuilding a whole new world of travel.
Attracting travel advisors, agency owners, managers, corporate partners, host agencies and trade media, ACTA’s two-day summit, which runs until Friday (Oct. 1), is tackling topics that impact business today so attendees can plan for tomorrow.
Participants will gain insights on industry trends, network with peers and have opportunities to win great prizes, such as roundtrip airfare courtesy of Air Canada, an AmaWaterways river cruise and more.
On-demand flexibility “is a must-have”
A panel held yesterday covered some anticipated travel trends for 2022, as well as ways to rebuild the industry, which continues to face never-before-seen challenges.
The discussion, moderated by Wendy Paradis, president of ACTA, featured Zeina Gedeon, CEO of Travel Professional International (TPI); Patrick Doyle, vice-president and general manager at American Express Global Business Travel, Canada; Joe Adamo, president of Transat Distribution Canada and Christine James, vice-president of Travel Leaders Network Canada.
“On-demand flexibility has become a ‘must-have’ within all sectors in the travel industry ecosystem from airlines to hotels,” Doyle said. “Travel policies should also be subject to review and constant adjustment throughout 2022.”
Among other trends, gaining employee confidence and trust to travel again is essential, Doyle said, and technology is key to enabling this to scale.
“Digitization and effective communications tools can mitigate traveller fears and trip cancellations,” he said.
“Signs of recovery are all around us”
Lucie Guillemette, executive vice-president and chief commercial officer at Air Canada, delivered the summit’s opening keynote, in which she reviewed the many steps Air Canada has taken to kick-start business, adapt to changes and support the trade.
“Our industry is in recovery mode and we at Air Canada are revving up,” Guillemette told attendees. “While it’s not a straight up trajectory, signs of recovery are all around us.”
Although a fraction of what Air Canada would have carried in 2019, the airline welcomed more than 75,000 customers on its “strongest day” in August, Guillemette noted.
Federal regulations, such as bans on direct flights to some destinations, such as India and Morocco, in addition to new travel processes, have led to “bumps and challenges” along the way, Guillemette said.
“It’s now OK to travel”
But border reopening “milestones” that have occurred, such as Canada allowing fully-vaccinated foreign travellers to enter the country, represent major steps towards “normalization,” she said.
“While it may not help Canadian agents with their domestic point of sale focus, it does go a long way in instilling in people’s minds that things are getting back to normal,” Guillemette said.
The allowing of international visitors, combined with reopening the U.S. land border on the Canadian side, supported by high vaccination rates, sends a clear message, Guillemette said, this being: “It’s now OK to travel.”
While some travellers are understandably still hesitant to fly again, Air Canada’s research shows that consumer confidence is growing.
Guillemette shared some of the latest data: in a recent Air Canada survey, 86 per cent of respondents said they were planning a future flight. And of these, more than six in 10 are going to travel for leisure purposes.
Business travel is “still soft,” Guillemette revealed, saying the recovery in Canada seems to be lagging the U.S. recovery with only 29 per cent of respondents planning travel for business purposes.
Rebuilding the network
While the recovery will take time, Air Canada has nonetheless begun to rebuild its network to the best of its ability.
“This has been a challenge as we must cope with ever-changing restrictions,” Guillemette explained.
In June, Air Canada announced services at 50 Canadian airports, added three new routes, and re-established some regional flights.
In July, the airline unveiled its summer trans-border schedule, which included 55 routes, 34 destinations in the U.S, and is now up to 220 flights between U.S. and Canada.
Healthy demand for Europe
With respects to international travel: “We expect the overall recovery in the transatlantic will be quicker than other parts of our long-haul network,” Guillemette said.
“This is due to a combination of a high vaccination rate but [also] strong cultural and business ties between Canada and Europe and strong leisure demand from Canadians, she said.
“We’re already observing healthy demand signals for Europe into 2022.”
In July, Air Canada released its international schedule, which includes the resumption of 17 routes and 11 destinations, including a return to Vienna, Dublin and Zurich and new services to Doha and Cairo.
As far as Pacific regions go, the “outlook remains uncertain” due to significant restrictions that are still in place, Guillemette said.
Nonetheless, Air Canada has begun selling Australia with flights beginning in December.
Guillemette is most optimistic about sun markets, noting instances where the demand for sun destinations is above 2019’s pre-pandemic levels.
This is one reason why Air Canada Rouge, in September, resumed operations with flights between Toronto and Las Vegas, Tampa and Cancun.
Be travel ready
Guillemette encouraged travel advisors to use Air Canada’s revamped “Travel Ready Hub,” which now includes a helpful platform that shows entry and travel requirements for each country and region.
The easy-to-use tool, which you can access here, displays information about testing and vaccine requirements, needed documents and advice on check-in times and the places that Air Canada flies.
“I cannot emphasize enough how useful this tool is for our customers and agents,” Guillemette said. “I urge you to recommend that your clients use this hub. It will greatly simplify the travel experience.”
“We all need to do whatever we can to help people figure the rules out and be travel ready.”
ACTA’s 2021 Canadian Travel Industry Summit runs until Oct. 1. For more information on the agenda and participating speakers, click here.