Travel and tourism industries see glimmers of hope amid Omicron uncertainty


MONTREAL – Katie Summers has canceled her anniversary trip three times in the past 18 months. Now, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 means her January vacation in Hawaii with her husband can be added to the junk pile.

“This one’s a bucket list trip for us,” said the 34-year-old Calgary radio host.

“But it’s so expensive, because you budget for testing… your flight might get canceled randomly and you have to pay for a hotel. Suddenly traveling isn’t so fun anymore.”

The prospect of sunny beaches and the threat of deposit losses have kept them from canceling vacations so far. But confusion around testing, quarantine and layovers along with the possibility of tighter restrictions add to their uncertainty.

“We’re kind of taking the wait-and-see approach at this point,” she said. “We’re not going to make any decisions until some sort of clarification or new information is available.”

Summers is one of many Canadians who question their travel plans as information on Omicron circulates, even though travel and tourism players see glimmers of optimism in the latest updates.

Hotel and resort operators hope the pressure will be less severe than previous ones, said Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of BC

“But the news is changing every day,” he said. “The biggest worry for our members is that things are closing.

“Any further crackdown, regarding border crossings, would be seriously damaging to our industry,” he said, noting that cross-border travel is essential for ski resorts during the holidays.

“Whistler is picking up, it’s not where it normally is,” added Judas, although he said major inland resorts have seen a wave of cancellations after recent flooding in southern British Columbia.

Meanwhile, hotels in Victoria and Vancouver are enjoying healthier bookings this month, in part due to the “slight return” to conferences and special events, he said.

But Beth Potter, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said the hoped-for increase in travel and hospitality in December has not come true, as some guests have already canceled their trips from vacation due to concerns around Omicron.

To complicate matters, the new US measures require all foreign travelers to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of departure.

The Canadian government also announced last week that air travelers entering Canada, except those arriving from the United States, will now need to be tested upon arrival at the airport and isolated until they are get their results, even if they are fully vaccinated against the virus.

Canadians returning home by air or land after more than 72 hours abroad must also show proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test before departure.

Nonetheless, analysts at ATB Capital Markets say airline shares rebounded slightly after an Omicron-induced drop in the past two weeks after the release of preliminary data suggesting the variant may not be as bad as it is. feared him initially.

“We view the data from the United States as a positive leading indicator of demand trends in Canada as the holiday season approaches and into 2022,” ATB said in a note to customers.

Air Canada shares last week closed at their lowest price since January, hovering just above $ 20 before recovering to end the day at $ 21.73 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

Air Canada told investors last month that ticket sales, especially to sun destinations, remained strong as the new year approached.

Critical questions about the new COVID-19 strain remain unanswered, including whether it causes milder or more severe symptoms and how effectively current vaccines inoculate it.

In response to Omicron’s detection, Canada quickly imposed travel measures to curb the spread, including banning visitors who have recently traveled to 10 African countries.

South Africa was the first country to detect the variant, but cases in Europe and the United States predate the discovery, which has drawn criticism from some infectious disease experts over Canada’s decision to exclude travelers from certain African states. Omicron has now spread to more than three dozen countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the federal government is consulting with experts daily on potential measures to slow the spread of Omicron.

Walt Judas of the BC Tourism Association said the industry is still looking to Ottawa for a “sunset clause” on PCR testing for fully vaccinated international visitors.

“We are not trying to be callous or neglectful. Obviously, health and safety is paramount,” he said.

“But if people have been doubly vaccinated and, in many cases, received the booster, they really are as protected as they can be.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 7, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


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