With new lockdowns being imposed by the country’s largest provinces to curb the second wave of COVID-19, a growing number of Canadians are choosing instead to head south for some winter sun as a respite from the ongoing pandemic.
“I would call it much more than an uptick. Bookings have quadrupled in the last two weeks,” Nino Montagnese, Managing Director, Air Canada Vacations told OpenJaw on Wednesday. “What we’re hearing is that Canadians prefer to get away to the sun rather than sit at home in a lockdown. Oddly enough, (the lockdown) is stimulating winter travel.”
In an interview with CTV News Montreal, travel agent Christine Latremoille said COVID fatigue is setting in and travel agents are seeing business picking up. Bookings have increased in the past few weeks for her, with customers telling her if they can’t see family, they want to go somewhere where the rules aren’t as strict.
“There is no question there is legitimate pent up demand and yet there is also considerable financial challenge for many as well,” Ensemble Travel Group CEO David Harris told OpenJaw.
“Vaccine news is extremely enlightening and quarantine requirements must now be relaxed. There does appear to be a surge in interest, and I can only hope that restrictions will not inhibit the much needed “escape” for so many,” he said.
Other operators are also reporting that the lure of warmer weather is leading to a jump in fights south. In a statement, Sunwing said it is encouraged by the demand for resort vacations and WestJet said it will operate about 50 percent more flights during the peak holiday season.
In a Globe & Mail report, WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell said bookings for southern locations have also gone up, partially due to a COVID testing program under trial in Calgary that allows for shorter quarantines as well as a deal with Hawaii that allows Canadians to avoid the island’s quarantine if they test negative for coronavirus before arrival.
On Tuesday, Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu urged Canadians to reconsider their vacation plans, noting that travel rules can change quickly which was the case this week when Ottawa banned flights to the United Kingdom due to a new COVID-19 strain. She warned that Canadians risk not only being stranded abroad, but possibly bringing new virus variants back with them to Canada.
“Please don’t plan to travel internationally if it’s not for essential purposes,” said Hajdu.
But in a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that only two per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 cases are linked to international travel saying that the country’s 14-day quarantine for returning non-essential travellers is part of the reason why the numbers are low.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government to do more to protect Ontario from international travellers, who he says are a source of COVID-19 spread in the province because many of them don’t follow those quarantine rules. However, a CBC report looked at Ontario’s own statistics and found that travel-related COVID-19 cases represent only a small number of infections.