As Omicron Cases Rise, Many Cancel Their Winter Trips, And The Travel Industry Suffers Again

That’s it vu all over again.

For a travel industry just beginning to rebound from the ravages of COVID-19, the federal government’s recommendation this week that Canadians should avoid nonessential international travel was devastating. And too familiar.

“I can’t believe that 21 months after this pandemic, we are back in this position,” said a frustrated Richard Vanderlubbe, owner of travel agency and director of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.

Concerned customers have already flooded phone lines, wondering if it is still safe to travel amid the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID, Vanderlubbe said. Many are canceling.

“There were more cancellations than new reservations on Wednesday. Not everyone is canceling. But there are many questions, ”said Vanderlubbe, who fears the warning is a prelude to tougher measures.

“We have seen all of this before. First they say, ‘Well, you really shouldn’t, but it’s up to you.’ Then a week or two later, they banned it entirely, ”Vanderlubbe said.

Airlines are also frustrated by the warning, which comes just eight weeks after an earlier one was lifted.

“It is really disappointing to see another general ad. They just haven’t been effective in the past, ”said WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell, who argued that international air travel is not a huge risk to personal health.

“There are double PCR tests. There are masks. People have to be vaccinated. There is no safer place to be than an airplane right now, ”said Bell.

Still, Bell acknowledged, some of the people disrupting WestJet’s phone lines are calling to cancel their trips, though he said it is still too early to tell if there will be a big wave of cancellations.

“Canadians have different levels of comfort when traveling right now,” Bell said.

At Porter Airlines, which focuses on short-haul domestic and US flights, most customers don’t cancel, spokesman Brad Cicero said.

“The vast majority of our passengers keep their travel plans and new reservations are still being received,” Cicero said. “We believe that it is safe to fly with the improved health and safety protocols that exist, including mandatory vaccination and masking.”

While the ad focused on international travel, even the domestic tourism industry will be hit hard by Wednesday’s announcement, said Chris Bloore, executive director of the Ontario Tourism Industry Association.

“This is fueling people’s anxiety about traveling in general. It’s just terrible for us at all levels, “said Bloore. “Some companies just won’t be able to move on.”

When he heard Wednesday’s announcement, it was a crushing moment, Bloore admitted.

“My heart sank,” he said. “However, consumer confidence in traveling had been very fragile. This simply sends the message that it is not secure. “

Even before the warning, Bloore said, Ontario hotels, restaurants and tour operators were being hit by cancellations.

“As soon as Omicron came out, we had a barrage of cancellations,” Bloore said, adding that it was a devastating blow to an industry that lost roughly $ 2 billion in revenue during last year’s vacation travel season.

The news was especially daunting for small businesses that depend on money from travelers, international or domestic, to keep going, said Ryan Mallough, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“These companies are open, but governments are sending the message ‘Stay home. Limit your contacts, ‘”Mallough said.

Small businesses in Ontario have added an additional $ 190,000 debt during COVID, Mallough said, and those in the hotel industry have been particularly hard hit. Any financial leeway they might have had to withstand lean times has long since disappeared, he added.

“Many people have exhausted their credit cards and lines. Some people have had to re-mortgage their home or sell their car. They are exhausted, ”Mallough said.

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