Quebec’s TVA network reported Thursday the federal cabinet is studying ways to prevent Canadians from travelling internationally during the pandemic. It’s a move that would have disastrous results on the country’s already struggling travel industry unless it is accompanied with some kind of financial assistance to help it survive the loss of business.
According to the report’s unnamed source, Ottawa is considering implementing a travel ban similar to the one it had temporarily imposed on the United Kingdom a few weeks ago after the discovery of a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
The country’s travel trade is dreading the prospect of a travel ban and is already reeling from restrictions that have been placed on travellers.
“We’re down to zero,” Westmount Travel president Tony Fragapane told CTV News in Montreal. “We were the fourth largest travel agency in Quebec. We now sell basically nothing.”
In another CTV report, Al Valente, the owner of Windsor-based Valente travel, says his agency is working twice as hard to keep up with constantly changing regulations and getting clients home safely — for nearly nothing in return.
“We are the epicentre of this disease and our industry has just been hammered completely,” Valente said.
The issue has taken greater urgency as spring break approaches and the government seeks ways to keep Canadians in the country to prevent the importation of new versions of the virus that could potentially push the nation’s medical system over the brink.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated his government’s message that Canadians not travel outside the country, adding that new measures to prevent travel could be imposed without notice. Later that day, Quebec Premier François Legault urged Ottawa to impose an international travel ban although the PM replied that the constitution does not allow the government to prevent Canadians from leaving the country.
Air Transat spokesperson Debbie Cabana stressed to Global News that if a ban happens, the government would have to offer financial aid for airlines, adding that “at least that would be a clearer stance than urging Canadians not to travel. You cannot ask a company fighting for survival to continue to operate all while taking away its customers.”
Cabana also noted that travel only accounts for about one percent of COVID-19 cases in Canada.
A coalition of tourism and accommodation associations believes a non-essential travel ban would heighten unnecessary fear and misperceptions towards visitors and further cripple the already battered industry.
OWG, which launched flights to Cuba at the beginning of DEC 2020 on behalf of Hola Sun, says Friday will be the final one as they’ve pressed pause on their international service. In the CTV story, aviation expert John Gradek said if Ottawa does ban non-essential international travel, it could prove disastrous for airlines.
In an opinion piece in the Montreal Gazette, columnist Alison Hanes sums up the mixed messaging that surrounds the issue of cross-border air travel in Canada during the pandemic: “Stay home. Non-essential travel is strongly discouraged. But here’s a cheap flight to Cancun that’s just too good to pass up,” she writes.
Ottawa, she says, has been trying to have its cake and eat it, too. Rather than offer beleaguered airlines a proper bailout, Trudeau’s plan for keeping them in business seems to allow them to continue with business as usual, which lets people interpret the rules any way they like.
Canada has a separate mandate banning non-essential travel at the Canada-U.S. land border, which last week was also extended until 21FEB.
Mark Stachiew Editor
Mark Stachiew is a Montreal-based travel journalist who’s been exploring and writing about the world for more than 30 years. When he’s not travelling somewhere or grappling with words on a page, he curates his own collection of travel gear.