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People walk with their luggage outside Toronto Pearson International Airport, on Feb. 2, 2021.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

As travel agencies report soaring international bookings, experts and travellers say Canada’s requirement around quarantine hotels for returning travellers is the No. 1 factor holding back people from taking trips.

Large Canadian booking agencies like Flight Centre and tripcentral.ca have reported massive month-over-month increases in bookings since April, with Flight Centre reporting a nearly 20 per cent increase in bookings in April when compared to March.

May is on track to be their busiest since the pandemic began, though the overall amount is negligible compared with pre-pandemic times.

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“In the last month, just because the vaccine rollout has really picked up, there’s a lot of inquiry, and people are starting to book for that fall, winter and into early 2022 period,” said Allison Wallace, a spokeswoman with Flight Centre.

“People really seem to be thinking, `I’m going away this winter’ there’s no question that a year of not being able to travel has people feeling very much like they want something to look forward to.”

Richard Vanderlubbe, President of tripcentral.ca, said 20 per cent of respondents to his company’s survey in February said they would travel immediately, even when vaccination efforts had a long way to go and vaccine supply was limited.

As cases drop sharply and vaccination efforts pick up, Vanderlubbe said there would be many more people willing to book a trip right now if Canada didn’t have an expensive mandatory hotel quarantine process for international arrival.

“They are so itching to go, as soon as anything lets up on those restrictions, boom, there’ll be some demand,” said Vanderlubbe.

“People can tolerate the 14 day quarantine but it’s the hotel thing that’s really stopping it.”

On Thursday, the expert panel that advises the federal government on COVID-19 matters said Canada should scrap the mandatory three-day hotel quarantine for returning travellers, saying clear communication and effective contact tracing for returning travellers would be more effective at this time.

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The National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Canada’s largest air carriers, welcomed the panel’s advice, and also called for personal quarantine periods to be reduced from 14 days to seven.

“We strongly support these recommendations, and they are in-keeping with policy measures that are already being implemented by other countries as they release their plans for the safe restart of aviation and travel,” said NACC President and CEO Mike McNaney.

“We must get moving on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians in every region of the country whose livelihoods depend on travel and tourism.”

However, Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu and chief public health officer Theresa Tam say the federal government needs time to consider the panel’s report and discuss it with provinces before making a decision.

They were not able to give a timeline for when a decision on hotel quarantines would be made.

“As we move toward the next weeks and months with more and more vaccinations inside Canada, I think we’ll be able to have a lot more flexibility at the border,” said Tam.

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“I’m certain we’ll be hearing more about this space in the coming weeks.”

Both Vanderlubbe and Wallace say most of the bookings they’re seeing are for Mexico and the Caribbean in autumn and winter, as well as for Europe later in 2022. They say most travellers are hoping that many COVID-19 restrictions will have been scaled back by then.

Vanderlubbe said there could be a `flash’ of demand in August for European destinations as well if restrictions ease before the summer break is over.

Nora Downer, a 25-year-old Toronto resident, said her August trip to England to visit friends will hinge on whether travel restrictions ease.

She said she felt the need to book last month because she wanted to lock in a low rate and get her schedule sorted before a possible boom in travel demand when Canada’s reopening gets further under way.

Vanderlubbe said public sentiment around travel has certainly changed in the past couple months, and that his company would get hate mail if they sent out advertising emails that even mentioned travel destinations just a couple months ago.

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“Now, (if advertising) for November forward, we’re not getting the pushback that we used to,” said Vanderlubbe.

Still, people like Downer say they’re being judged for their decision to book a trip later this August, even though she expects to have her second vaccine shot by then.

“When I told my parents I was going, there was definitely judgment there, like “what do you think you’re doing?” said Downer.

“I think travel is one of the things that people are still the most worried about.”

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