Canadians appear keen to fly to sun destinations despite current challenges of COVID-19

Michel Dubois has packed his bags, even though his planned trip to Cuba is still more than two months away.

That’s because the retired television cameraman and editor from Saint-Jérôme, Que., Can’t wait to break away from the monotony of pandemic life.

“After a year and a half spent in front of my TV and my computer, it’s time to move on,” said Dubois, 70, who plans to scuba dive and soak up the sun.

Trips like the one Dubois booked also give airlines and tour operators something to look forward to – a seemingly better business outlook after months of severely hampered operations due to border closures and travel restrictions linked to the pandemic. .

Some key travel players are reporting increased demand for bookings to sun-drenched destinations, despite the continuing challenges of a global pandemic that has yet to end inside or outside Canada’s borders.

Better days to come?

The onset of the pandemic has prompted governments – including that of Canada – to urge people to stay at home to stem the spread of the coronavirus and its variants.

This is a position Ottawa still holds, even though the government recently eased restrictions on inbound travelers who are vaccinated.

Tourists relax on a beach in Cancun, Mexico, last month. (Marco Ugarte / The Associated Press)

“We continue to advise against non-essential travel outside of Canada,” Global Affairs Canada said in an email Friday, noting that this applies to all countries around the world.

The ministry also highlighted the practical concerns of those who choose to go abroad.

“Additional travel restrictions can be imposed suddenly. Airlines can suspend or reduce their flights without notice. Travel plans can be severely disrupted, making it difficult to get home.”

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Indeed, travel restrictions related to COVID-19 vary from country to country, with vaccine passports gaining traction with some governments. Prior to the current federal election campaign, Ottawa announced its intention to develop such documentation for international travel.

So and now

Ambarish Chandra, associate professor of economics at the University of Toronto, says that while the government actively discouraged travel last winter, that hasn’t stopped everyone from going overseas, like snowbirds. who went to Florida.

With the advances in immunization, Chandra said he believes Ottawa’s stance on leisure travel may need to change.

“I don’t think it would be reasonable for the government to organize a second winter season and say, ‘Don’t travel,’” Chandra said in an interview.

A pilot wearing a mask at Toronto Pearson International Airport in March 2020, the same month the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Numerous border closures and travel restrictions quickly went into effect in countries around the world. (Chris Helgren / Reuters)

Jörg Fritz, associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at McGill University in Montreal, says that as travel resumes, Canada will need to closely monitor strains of the virus circulating here and around the world.

“We just have to face the fact that this virus will not go away that quickly,” he said.

“The danger of new variants appearing that could escape vaccine-induced immunity is still there and will be for quite some time.”

It is also essential for Canada to continue to increase its immunization rate and to ensure that children are protected as soon as possible, said Fritz.

A desire to escape

Air Canada says the coming fall and winter looks promising for travel to sun destinations.

“Regarding the sun market, we are very optimistic about our recovery,” airline spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told CBC News in a recent email, adding that “we are currently seeing growth. of demand above 2019 levels “.

Sunwing Travel Group says it is seeing “encouraging demand” for sun destination bookings compared to last fall. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Sunwing Travel Group reports “encouraging demand” from last fall, which spokesperson Melanie Anne Filipp said shows Canadians are increasingly confident to travel again.

“The increase in vaccinations across the country and the easing of border measures have undoubtedly contributed to the growing interest of Canadians in travel to sun destinations,” said Filipp, who noted that business remains on. below pre-pandemic levels.

Montreal-based Air Transat currently flies passengers to a mix of national and international destinations. Some of its sun destinations include Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Mexico.

“We confirm that demand is doing well and we clearly feel the urge to travel is back,” Air Transat spokesperson Debbie Cabana said by email.

“However, due to the uncertainty that persists when traveling abroad, bookings are being made more at the last minute than before the pandemic.”

Being able to back down

A last minute travel purchase was not the story of Dubois, the retired television cameraman, who booked his own trip in January.

But he also bought a ticket that will allow him to cancel his plans up to 24 hours before departure, with a full refund.

Tourists take a break at a restaurant in Havana, Cuba, in August 2019. Seven months later, the global pandemic was declared, ending most pleasure travel around the world. (Fernando Medina / Reuters)

On previous trips he hadn’t tended to anticipate the possibility of having to cancel – but that was before COVID-19.

“Before now, no,” said Dubois, who has worked for both CBC and Radio-Canada during his career. “Now definitely. “

Chandra of the University of Toronto says the more flexible arrangements offered by airlines reflect the fact that some customers will not be willing to book expensive tickets if they risk losing their money.

Roll out the welcome mat

Dubois will be traveling to Cuba at the end of November and by then travel restrictions will have been relaxed.

The Cuban Ministry of Tourism recently announced that from November 15, Canadians with proof of vaccination will not have to be tested before leaving for the country. They will also be able to travel across the island.

Vacationers bathe in a Club Med resort in the Dominican Republic before the pandemic. With advances in immunization, an expert says he believes Ottawa’s restrictive stance on leisure travel may need to change. (Charles Platiau / Reuters)

Sunwing’s Filipp said “many sun destinations are already open to travel,” and like Cuba, other destinations are expected to ease their own restrictions as vaccination rates rise and COVID-19 cases decline.

Chandra says he doubts different rules between sun destinations will have much of an effect on travel habits.

That’s because many sun worshipers – and snowbirds in particular – are likely to “stick with their choices” when it comes to their desired winter getaways. “They are not going to go anywhere else,” he said.

They are also unlikely to travel to other areas as they head south to take advantage of the better weather, he said.

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