INDUSTRY REACTS: Sudden COVID Testing Requirement a Misguided Populist Reaction Christine James, Richard Vanderlubbe, ACTA & more weigh in on new regulation
Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw
Canada's new coronavirus testing regulation for incoming travellers has taken effect. Visitors and nationals alike must present documentation of a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours before stepping on a plane and the mandatory 14-day quarantine for all international travellers will remain in effect.
The move has sent the industry into a tailspin as it grapples with the new rule.
Richard Vanderlubbe, founder of tripcentral.ca, feels the new regulation is a misguided populist reaction.
"All these months in, we have learned nothing. This virus spreads person-to-person and within communities. It doesn't care about borders or whether someone is essential," he said.
"If the government was serious about this, there would be rapid testing before boarding a flight from home, and arriving back home - domestic or international. Imposing a high cost and scarce tests within a short window in one direction will not stop the virus from spreading. This is a pure political response to be seen as doing 'something' against a new strain 'from over there'. That strain is already here," he told Open Jaw.
"The government cannot take these actions and expect airlines to continue to offer service at even more losses. At some point, it is cheaper to completely shut down than offer service for whatever 'essential' means."
David Harris, CEO of Ensemble Travel Group, calls the government's "do not travel" message an unacceptable response.
"It does not address the issues nor is it a viable solution to resume essential global economic activity that is only possible with a healthy travel sector," he tells Open Jaw.
"While we can all agree that testing is imperative, there remain significant, unanswered logistical and financial challenges that will continue to negatively impact consumer confidence in travel along with the uncertainties such as responsibility for the liability of rebooking costs, accommodation costs for those who are denied boarding."
Harris says it is "imperative" that quarantine restrictions be significantly relaxed in favour of solutions that ensure passenger safety.
"To continue with current quarantine restrictions will further impede consumer confidence and a meaningful return to the viability of travel. What is desperately needed is a collaborative approach between government and the key stakeholders which advocacy groups such as ACTA have been seeking for months," he says.
Christine James, Vice President, Canada at TL Network tells Open Jaw she understand the government’s responsibility to protect the health of Canadians, "however, the timelines that they have enforced are completely unrealistic.
"Furthermore, this announcement came at the time when many travellers were already in destination and are now left scrambling to comply with the new requirements. The tight deadlines also left airlines and tour operators in a lurch and trying to source testing sites in the destinations they service to help support their passengers. To make matters worse, the government is still demanding the 14-day quarantine even with proof of a negative test, which is just adding yet another hurdle," she adds.
Rocky Racco, Open Jaw Retail Analyst and CEO of TTI Travel, said he supports the new regulation, but takes issue with the 14-day quarantine requirement remaining in place.
"With the cases rising within Canada and many parts of the world it is imperative that we do all possible to flatten the curve collectively," he said.
"But if you test negative, then quarantining should be reduced substantially. The government should also acknowledge that many destinations have done a very good job of keeping COVID in check and not imply that travelling promotes COVID spread."
The Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA) says it is "very disappointed" by the "sudden" testing requirement and is calling on the government to reconsider this new mandatory requirement that does not remove or reduce the 14-day quarantine.
“A far better solution for Canadians and the industry would be to test on arrival,” said ACTA president, Wendy Paradis.
"The extremely tight deadline to ensure that airlines have processes in place and for travel agents to notify clients already in transit about the new requirements are unrealistic and have created chaos for travellers and the industry."
Melanie Anne Filipp, Director of Corporate Communications at Sunwing, told Open Jaw the aviation industry was not initially consulted on the new testing measures, but it has recently seen a more collaborative approach on the part of the government, particularly from Transport Canada, in building a regulatory framework around the new requirements.
Filipp says Sunwing has been advocating for a national inbound rapid testing strategy as a means of reducing quarantine requirements.
"We hope to see more widespread rapid testing in the near future, as this is a key element to the travel industry’s rebound," she said.
New Rule Exposes Dire Need for Trade Support as Travel Set to Decline
There was no doubt among industry leaders the new regulation will be a deterrent for some Canadians that were considering travelling over the next couple of months. With this in mind, many industry leaders reiterated the need for the government to provide financial support for the trade.
“This new requirement is yet another blow to travel agents who are seeing any possible bookings from clients evaporate as they express concern and cancel," says Paradis. "This latest development has put travel agents in an even more precarious situation and ACTA cannot stress enough the acute need for urgent financial support for travel agents and the entire travel industry including airlines, airports, tour operators and travel agencies."
Racco believes that in the short term – from 60 to 90 days -- this will pause any rebound, but hopefully set the stage for a sustainable recovery in the second half of 2021.
"The trade is very sensitive to the well being of the public, but if the government wants us to ‘strongly, strongly, strongly’ recommend the avoidance of non-essential travel, then they must ‘quickly, quickly, quickly, provide the financial relief we need to survive or there won’t be a travel agency community to look after our clients," Racco commented.
TL Network’s James said the biggest challenge advisors face is how to best support their clients that were already booked to travel and those who are deterred by this new requirement, but she ended on a positive note:
"There’s no question this is a setback, however travel will rebound, just not as soon as we hoped for."
Click here and here for Open Jaw's prior coverage on this topic, with more reactions from the travel industry.
YYZ Testing Project Seen as a Bit of Good News
The COVID-19 testing program for international travellers that launched Wednesday at Toronto Pearson Airport was seen as a bright spot in a challenging travel market. Unlike thepilot testing program at YYCpilot testing program at YYC, travellers taking part in the free, voluntary testing at YYZ still need to quarantine.
"The good news is that the Ontario Government just approved PCR testing at [YYZ] with a promise that will lead to the reduction of the quarantine period. I also have to commend the suppliers that have done a great job at not only providing a list of test sites in destination but also working with the resorts to set up testing right onsite which will help put some travellers' minds to rest," said James.
TTI Travel’s Racco said, "Given that Pearson will have testing available, that should set the ground works to better balance testing with 14-day quarantine."
Anna Kroupina Journalist
Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.