After two years of cancelled plans, postponed trips and the overall anxiety of living in a pandemic, Canadians are itching to get away this summer and visit someplace new.
Tour operators, whose businesses slowed to a trickle in the last 24 months, say bookings to international destinations have soared since March and many predict sales will reach levels this summer and fall not seen since 2019.
“We ran over 1,000 trips in March and we’ve almost doubled that for April,” says Bruce Poon Tip, founder of Toronto-based G Adventures, a small-group holiday company that focuses on community tourism. “We are cautiously optimistic we will meet prepandemic levels” in the last half of the year, he says.
“While many of our customers are still understandably nervous about travelling with everything going on in the world, they seem to have weighed the risks and rewards and decided now is the time to venture beyond their own backyards,” says Poon Tip.
Clearly, the rebound is a much-needed boost for the global travel and tourism sector, which, according to the United Nations Tourism Organization (UNWTO), lost an estimated combined total of US$4-trillion in 2020 and 2021.
However, Kylan Falk, vice-president of the luxury boutique agency Civilized Adventures in Calgary, says pent-up demand for travel – coupled with increasingly scant availability at many hotel and car rental agencies – have combined to create a perfect storm of summer sellouts. Popular destinations such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece “which seem to be on everyone’s travel bucket list this summer” are getting tougher and tougher to book, Falk says.
The most sought-after locations are already sold out based on two years’ worth of backlog, says Falk, who adds that his agency is seeing price increases of as much as 20 per cent at some hotels, with another 10 per cent jump forecast for next year. “Companies are making up for lost time. We are telling our clients to be prepared to pay more. The best advice I can give people hoping to go away this summer or fall is to book now to ensure you get the best selection and the best prices,” says Falk.
Poon Tip agrees, adding that the key to successful travel this summer is good planning. “There is a shortage of space for pretty much everything right now. It’s a fight even for us to book hotels, transportation and venues such as museums,” he says.
“We’re also up against a huge domestic market that we’ve never encountered before,” says Poon Tip, pointing to Alaska, one of G Adventures’ biggest summer destinations. “It suddenly has a massive domestic tourism business so now we’re competing with international tourism companies as well as local people taking staycations,” he explains, adding that pre-COVID, booking closer to departure could mean scoring a good deal. “That’s no longer true. Last-minute deals – in most cases – are gone because of the capacity shortage.”
In addition to booking well in advance, Jon Lansdell, director of travel relationships for Toronto-based bespoke tour operator Butterfield & Robinson, says it is in every traveller’s best interest to make sure they continue to plan for unforeseen developments – COVID-related or otherwise – that could affect their travel itinerary.
“The virus has not gone away so while most countries are opening up and easing back on COVID-19 restrictions, people should still be checking government websites constantly to ensure they are on top of the latest health and safety protocols,” says Lansdell.
The fluidity of the situation with the virus and the war in Ukraine also mean it’s never been more important to be adequately insured. Lansdell stresses the importance of reading the fine print of your travel insurance plan to ensure you are covered for emergency medical (including COVID) as well as cancellation costs in the event there is a travel advisory change that could affect your vacation.
Tanisha Kishan, a chartered insurance professional at rates comparison sight Ratesdotca, says it’s important to understand how coverage would be affected if Canada or the destination country once again imposed a non-essential international travel advisory in the event of another wave of COVID. “You may still need to seek out policies or riders specifically created for pandemic travel,” says Kishan. “As we’ve seen over the past few years, things can change pretty fast.”
With demands for flights bouncing back, she also recommends looking into how insurance might help mitigate being bumped off a flight, adding that some policies cover costs associated with cancellations and delays caused by airline overbooking.
Lansdell says his company, founded in 1966, has weathered many crises over the past 50-plus years, including SARS and September 11. “We’ve ridden the waves of ups and downs before and we know how to survive.”
“Prospects for summer and fall travel are finally looking up,” he says. People “are itching to take that trip to Provence they’ve had to postpone the last two years. They’re booking dream holidays in dream destinations – and many of our clients are also going a little bit longer and spending a little bit more.”
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