March Break Bookings Slow, Restrictions Blamed

Two Ontario travel agents say that March Break is turning into March bust and lay the blame for lacklustre bookings squarely at the feet of federal government travel restrictions aimed at containing coronavirus.

The agents say those restrictions are raising fears among potential travellers that their vacations might be considerably more expensive than initially expected.

The reports of a reluctance to travel by their clients amid concerns about the cost of PCR testing needed to return to this country come at a time of growing speculation that Ottawa may soon be ready to do away with that requirement, with many in the travel industry and some in the medical community publicly questioning whether it still serves a useful purpose.

“March Break bookings? What March Break bookings?” asks Ethel Hansen Davey of Toronto’s Uniglobe Enterprise Travel. “With the PCR testing required for everyone needed in destination paired with the testing upon arrival home, with delays of 4 days to get those results, it’s virtually impossible for families to plan a trip without planning an additional 10 days or so of time off to prepare for eventualities, and an additional $1,000 budgeted for tests.

“I really think that we need the accurate numbers for how many Canadian travellers are testing positive in destination as well as how many are testing positive upon arrival home in order to see if these steps are justified. Does anyone have these numbers? I certainly haven’t seen them.”

Similarly, Lynda Westlake of Vision Travel in Port Hope, Ont., reports that her agency has had “hardly any” March Break bookings and she too points a finger at PCR tests and their cost as a major deterrent to out-of-country travel these days.

“Although most families want to experience rest, relaxation and fun in the sun, they are not prepared to add an additional US$150 per person for the Covid-19 test required to re-enter Canada,” Westlake says. “With the lockdowns, layoffs and reduced hours during the last two years, most people simply cannot afford the extra expense.”

Westlake adds there are also many people who believe they’re unable to travel after hearing Ottawa’s caution against “non-essential travel” because of the pandemic.

“Also a lot of people are extremely worried about contracting Covid-19 at the destination and don’t want to then have to quarantine,” she continues. “I wish the government would stop the mandatory PCR testing for all Canadians returning home. I am sure clients would (then) be booking more, especially to escape our winters and two years of on-and-off lockdowns.

“I think travel is essential for our mental health and well-being and I’m praying for the return of normalcy sooner rather than later. ”

However, not all agents say bookings are slow, with Lorena Suarez-Balkowski saying she’s seeing bookings for this month, March and April.

“People are ready to travel now,” she states.

This week, the federal government is expected to announce changes to border testing rules. What those changes will be; when they will be implemented; and whether they will be effective in revitalizing bookings remains to be seen.