Travel agents are being inundated with inquiries from Canadians keen to book vacations now that the federal government has announced it will drop pre-arrival PCR testing for fully vaccinated travelers starting Feb. 28.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced on Tuesday that travelers will still be required to be tested for COVID-19 before arrival, but can opt for an authorized rapid antigen test instead. made no later than one day before their scheduled flight or arrival at the land border.
Antigen tests are generally less expensive and more widely available than a molecular test and can provide results within minutes.
Also starting February 28, unvaccinated children under 12 entering Canada with fully vaccinated parents will no longer have to avoid schools, daycare centers or other crowded places for 14 days, Duclos said.
Many travel agents say they are struggling to keep up with high demand now that travel rules are changing.
“I get so many bookings that I’m not sure I can handle all of my customers,” said Katherine Velan, travel agent at Direct Travel in Montreal.
Shalene Dudley, owner of Latitude Concierge Travels based in Burlington, Ont., said her “email has exploded” with people wanting to travel for spring break over the past 24 hours.
The two said Canada’s current travel rules, which require travelers entering Canada to show proof of a negative molecular test taken within 72 hours of their departing flight or scheduled arrival at the land border, have been a huge deterrent to Canadians wanting to travel.
“Of all measures, that has been the bane of our existence as travel agents,” Velan said.
She said many customers avoid making trips because of the difficulty – and cost – of taking a PCR test abroad.
A PCR test can cost between $150 and $300. It can also be difficult to get test results within the specified 72 hours, as they usually have to be processed in the lab.
“The problem before was that the PCR [test] was hard to find, depending on what country you were going to,” Dudley said.
“Supply was limited. Sometimes labs didn’t have enough turnaround time, and often travelers were stranded or had to pay hundreds of dollars per person for help.”
But rapid tests will need to be done by a lab or healthcare entity, so home testing won’t be allowed.
Even so, “it’s a good thing,” said Ajay Kumar, owner of My Choice Travel and Tour Inc. in Winnipeg.
Many of his clients travel to the Punjab region of India, and the expensive PCR test has been a major hurdle, Kumar said.
Velan said changing federal travel rules certainly played a big role in boosting travel bookings, but interest was already growing in the weeks leading up to the announcement.
Canadians eager to travel
Travel agencies and airlines were already seeing an increase in overseas bookings last week.
Canadian travel agency Flight Center said last week that bookings for trips departing from Canadian airports in March had increased by more than 700% compared to bookings in the same period last year.
“There is no doubt that there is pent-up demand,” Flight Center spokeswoman Allison Wallace said. “People…want to take that trip they’ve been waiting for.”
Bookings to sun destinations through Tripcentral.ca topped 50% of pre-pandemic levels, with a slight increase over the weekend as news of a possible reduction in testing requirements spread, the president said Richard Vanderlubbe.
He said the calls were coming in so quickly he was struggling to hire enough agents to handle them after he cut nearly 60% of his 160 employees and closed all 26 offices in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
“The whole industry sees that we are understaffed right now for this increase that is coming,” he said.
Martin Taller, tourism and travel program coordinator at Algonquin College in Ottawa, said many travel agents have left the industry in favor of better job stability and higher incomes.
Taller said the travel industry is typically “one of the first to feel the downturn, but the first to feel the recovery,” and he notes that many employers are looking to “bring anyone interested in the business back. “. ascend.
The new travel rules that come into effect Feb. 28 will “hopefully bring new confidence to commerce, a new wave of business,” Taller said.
“There will be, I think, an influx of new people coming back into the industry and getting a license to sell travel.”
Dudley said many people are surprised to learn that there is “very limited availability at many resorts” over spring break right now, with Canadians competing with people around the world who have also postponed travel since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Many hotels, airlines and tour operators scaled back operations and laid off staff earlier in the pandemic, Velan said, and are now struggling to operate at full capacity.
“It’s not pre-COVID travel anymore,” Velan said.
“Things cost more. It’s harder to get hotels. It’s harder to get flights. It’s harder to do everything. Most car rental companies have sold all their cars. so there aren’t as many cars… Hotels are struggling to find staff to be able to open all their rooms.”
Velan and Dudley both warn travelers that many vacation destinations will soon be sold out, if they haven’t already.
Dudley added that there was still some risk in traveling and that it was important to plan for a possible COVID-19 infection. She recommends people get travel insurance.
“It’s very important to know what all your options are if you get sick and how you would get home.”