Thursday,  March 4, 2021  4:09 am

“Don’t stop dreaming”: Tour operators sound off on Trudeau’s travel rules

“Don’t stop dreaming”: Tour operators sound off on Trudeau’s travel rules
From left: Jeff Element, President, The Travel Corporation Canada; Stephanie Bishop, managing director, Globus family of brands; David Green, VP commercial, G Adventures.
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 COVID-19 pandemic, combined with Canada’s new travel restrictions, has brought the travel industry to another standstill.

Canada’s major airlines suspending service to Mexico and the Caribbean for three months will, undoubtedly, be devastating for all sectors within the business.

Additionally, the mandatory hotel quarantine that international travellers will soon be subjected to, and be required to pay for, is yet another barrier that puts a damper on any hope of a recovery.

As President and CEO of Transat Jean-Marc Eustache recently argued in an open letter, such short-term strategies have damaging consequences, and if Canada hopes to maintain its connection to the world, it’s time to define a clear, long-term plan for the future.

President and CEO of Transat Jean-Marc Eustache. (Transat)

Government talks with airlines over sector-specific support continue, southern destinations brace for another winter season of profound losses.

READ MORE: Mexico, Jamaica, Cuba brace for "huge" losses in wake of Canada’s flight suspensions

Meanwhile, travel agents face yet another quarter of frustration and economic uncertainty.

The situation continues to raise questions, but also renews the call for collaboration within the travel industry.

Book now, travel later 

This is a sentiment shared among some of Canada’s leading tour operators.

David Green, vice-president commercial at G Adventures, says the new restrictions present “yet another opportunity” for travel agents to shine.

“Our message to agents is ‘Don't stop dreaming – don't let these new changes to travel legislation dampen your desire to travel,” Green told PAX. “Instead, Book Now for Travel Later. That's the message we all need to push. Don't give up hope.”

Vaccinations are coming, Green pointed out while predicting that most people in Canada who want a vaccination will likely have it by October.  

“So promote that fact and support the Book Now for Travel Later message,” Green said.

“Continue to work with suppliers that you know you can trust and remain focused on the barely visible roadmap ahead, and let's hope someday soon, governments around the world come together with a clear plan to reopen borders.”

READ MORE: “The government asked, and we agreed": Airlines elaborate on flight suspensions

G Adventures has been urging the trade to reengage with their clients and book "retravel’ arrangements" so people have something to look forward to. 

David Green, vice-president commercial, G Adventures. (G Adventures)

“As our Founder Bruce Poon Tip says: ‘We were all born explorers,’ and I, like many others, am looking forward to the day we can travel again.”

Canada’s hotel quarantine measure didn’t come as a surprise to Green, given that a similar policy was announced in the U.K. just days earlier.

READ MORE: “A punch in the gut”: Agents, industry reacts to Canada's new travel restrictions

However: “This extremely late change to policy is clearly designed to further stop all forms of international travel and only begs the question why now?” he said.

“At what point will governments come together and recognize that this is a global pandemic and beating it will involve taking a global approach?”

Ready to break travel records

Stephanie Bishop, managing director of the Globus family of brands, recognizes that it’s a difficult time for travellers and the travel industry.

“But hope is still on the horizon,” Bishop told PAX.  “While these new restrictions feel like a temporary step back, the silver lining is that the government and airlines seem to be interested in communication and collaboration.”

“As an industry, we have an opportunity to create solutions together, with one voice.”  

Globus has been weathering the COVID storm by expanding its domestic itineraries in Canada, inviting travellers to explore their own backyards.

Last fall, for example, Globus, alongside 19 guests, escaped to the wilds of Banff National Park and glacier-fed lakes nearby on a five-day Canadian Rockies Escape.

“For travellers who want to make vacation plans in the short-term, we’re here for them,” Bishop said.

Stéphanie Bishop, managing director for the Globus family of brands, in front of Emerald Lake. (Globus)

The company is also focused on new off-season vacations, “undiscovered” tours and off-the-beaten-path river cruises, taking a “ready and waiting” approach for when travellers gift themselves something to look forward to, either later this year or into 2022.

Globus’ Peace of Mind Travel Plan comes with each booking and ensures there’s no risk planning for the future.

“Getting a trip on the calendar means there’s hope for better days and hope is paramount right now,” Bishop said.

Her message to the trade?

“We’re here for you to stand strong today and rise-up tomorrow,” she said. “We’re just one month into 2021. There’s a lot of time left to help us get back on the road to travel and recovery.”

“Travellers – your clients – need something to look forward to and a vacation will cure this COVID year.”

“Together, we can look forward to the day when we can help them fulfill their travel dreams – this year or next year.”

With that, Bishop said 2022 will break travel records – “the right kind.”

Travel is vital to Canada's recovery 

The Travel Corporation and its family of brands, including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Contiki and Uniworld, is respecting the latest travel rules, calling them difficult but temporary.

“The well-being of our guests has always been and always will be our first priority,” Jeff Element, President of The Travel Corporation Canada, told PAX. “We hope this will foster better collaboration between our government bodies and our industry partners in the coming months.”

Element says travel needs the government's full support “to help us reignite” the return of domestic and international leisure travel.

Jeff Element, President, The Travel Corporation Canada. (TTC)

In 2019, Statistics Canada stated that tourism activities accounted for about 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP and generated about 750,000 jobs, Element pointed out.

“Our industry is vital to our nation’s economic recovery,” he said.

TTC Canada’s focus is on long-term strategies that will help the industry during this recovery period, Element said.  

“We are remaining optimistic and working very hard to welcome the return of travel later this year,” he said. “We are supporting our loyal partners to help them generate bookings including expanding our Groups Department to provide as many travel options and experiences which agents can offer to their clients.”

READ MORE: "Untold damage": WTTC condemns Canada's "drastic measures" to restrict travel

An international tour operator, TTC has created local and worldwide trips with available departure dates for both 2021 and 2022 which gives travellers a flexible two-year booking window.

“Although we have suspended all of our trips and cruises this winter, we know clients are keen to explore the world again,” Element said. “Also, clients should have peace of mind knowing that with TTC’s guided vacation brands, guests can postpone and rebook their travels without any penalty until Dec. 31st, 2022.”

Element said travel advisors should be rest assured that “this too shall pass.”

“We will persevere since we have the capacity to recover from these difficulties especially united together,” he said.

“These words and other inspirational thoughts are shared by our TTC Chairman, Stanley Tollman, who is our constant guiding light, as we remain focused and resilient during these testing times.”

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