Ontario loosens restrictions, Trudeau unveils border timelines
Before the pandemic brought the travel industry to a near standstill, the documentsoutlining entry requirements that Kristin Hoogendoorn would hand her clients prior to a trip typically consisted of a single page.
“It used to be just, `make sure your passport is valid six months past your date of entry,” said Hoogendoorn, laughing.
Now, the Milton, Ont.-basedCentre Holidays travel agent said such documents run as long as six pages and consist of complicated entry requirements that often change, such as Barbados's recent decision to only allow entry to visitors who have received two doses of the same vaccine, a decision that was rescinded Thursday.
Travel agents say that while there is no lack of enthusiasm among Canadians to travel abroad, confusing vaccine policies are holding back a full rebound in the industry.
The situation is also affecting the amount of labour involved in each booking. Tripcentral.ca president Richard Vanderlubbe said booking a trip for a client can now take three times as long as it did before the pandemic.
Moreover, his staff are required to contact each person booked to a destination every time a country changes its entry requirements.
“For example, we just got notified that ... kids age five to 11 must also get a PCR test before returning to Canada, so we have to notify all our customers that have bookings with children,” said Vanderlubbe.
“We've never had to query our database to find children, it's just a new wrinkle, we've never had to make an advisory like that.”
The changing entry policies are enough of a headache that Hoogendoorn has decided she'll only deal with bookings in Mexico and the Caribbean, so that she can stay up-to-date on the requirements for a specific number of countries.
“I can't freely book travel like I did in the past, I really have to rein it in and focus on a certain niche market,” said Hoogendoorn.
Despite a constantly changing environment, both travel agents say there's a cohort of travellers who are determined to take a trip no matter what.
For those customers, Vanderlubbe recommends picking a well-established tourist destination or resort, and booking weekend flights for a seven- or 14-day trip.
He says weekend flights with a one-week or two-week schedule are the least likely to be changed, and there have been many instances where people have booked resort stays for an odd number of days, only to find out the airline cancelled or modified a flight.
“Stick to the main destinations,” said Vanderlubbe. “The more esoteric you go or the more of an odd duration you go with, the higher the chance it'll get disrupted.”
With all the uncertainty around changing restrictions, both agents say travellers who typically book on their own should consider using a travel agent this year.
“Anybody who books now has to be prepared for the fact that rules can change any time, including while you're away,” said Vanderlubbe.
“Talk to a professional who can tell you these things and is committed to keeping you informed as things change.”