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The program, which CIBC calls 'Holidays for Heroes' – a Toronto paramedic seen here on April 1, 2020 – is an effort to show appreciation for the difficult and sometimes risky work that people across the health care sector are doing to battle the novel coronavirus.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The coronavirus pandemic has slowed tourism to a crawl, but front line health care workers confronting the crisis are still clamouring to get away.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce launched a promotional campaign earlier this month to give away 30 million travel points in the form of $1,500 vouchers to health care professionals, asking anyone to nominate a deserving recipient. The response showed the pent-up demand for a break: More than 10,000 nominations came in during the first 24 hours, and more than 17,000 have been submitted so far.

The program, which CIBC calls “Holidays for Heroes,” is an effort to show appreciation for the difficult and sometimes risky work that people across the health care sector are doing to battle the novel coronavirus – but also to try and stand out from other branding campaigns. The bank’s research suggested that ads thanking health care workers, while appreciated, didn’t leave a lasting impression, and offered no tangible help or relief to those most affected by the crisis.

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“We just felt like words were not enough, given that all of our health care workers are taking risks to be there for us, and they’re putting us first," said Laura Dottori-Attanasio, CIBC’s group head of personal and business banking. “And that’s how we came to this, which was, what can we do so that we can put action behind our words?”

As part of the program, CIBC will also give 200 bursaries worth $2,500 each to first-year students enrolling in health care programs at universities and colleges over the next two years. The Globe and Mail is a media partner for the program.

With most flights grounded and popular destinations off limits because of physical distancing protocols, travel vouchers may not seem like the most useful solution. But CIBC’s research showed that while health care workers’ clear first priority was health and safety for them and their families, getting a break was next on the list.

“They were exhausted, they were stressed out, and they were worried about a second wave of the coronavirus later this year,” said Stephen Forbes, executive vice-president of purpose, brand and corporate affairs, in an interview.

The vouchers won’t expire, and the bank expects some recipients to use them in the coming months for vacations within driving distance, even before international travel restrictions ease. “That’s also a way to boost local tourism and to jump-start the local economy," Mr. Forbes said.

To expand the program’s reach, CIBC is also allowing other companies to buy additional vouchers to be distributed in their name. The winners of vouchers will be announced by the end of June.

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