Travellers wary, agencies not encouraging travel despite incentives

Noble Horvath

Pauline St. Jean, 62, calls it a strike out: three exciting family vacations planned for the next six months, all cancelled due to COVID-19. Fear of rising case numbers and a federal government advisory for non-essential travel outside of Canada compelled St. Jean and her partner to make the call earlier this […]

Pauline St. Jean, 62, calls it a strike out: three exciting family vacations planned for the next six months, all cancelled due to COVID-19.

Fear of rising case numbers and a federal government advisory for non-essential travel outside of Canada compelled St. Jean and her partner to make the call earlier this month.  

“The deal breaker is that the numbers were going in the wrong direction with COVID. I am very, very disappointed,” she said. “It is so important for me to be able to enjoy every single day.”

All the upheaval, she says, has taken an emotional toll on her and increased her anxiety. 

The St. Andrews, Man., retiree was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer last year. She and her partner were hoping to fly to Las Vegas in October.

After that, a romantic three-week getaway was planned to Puerto Vallarta for January and a surprise Disneyland holiday was booked in February with her three grandchildren. 

But St. Jean doesn’t feel safe getting on a plane, even if airlines are offering free COVID insurance if you get sick.

“This coverage doesn’t make a difference. If we get sick, we get sick,” she said. “No, I would rather be at home. If we are going to get COVID, I would rather be at home, not in another country.”

Emilie Lemay feels the same way. The Winnipeg artist and curator had been planning three trips she won’t be taking, either: a family reunion in Italy, a retreat through her husband’s work in Arizona and an artist residency program in Yukon. The Yukon trip was rescheduled to November but has now been postponed until further notice. 

The lure of COVID-19 insurance from airlines isn’t enough to convince her to board a plane.

“Flights don’t make me feel safe at this point. Not a chance,” Lemay said. “Even if they want to fly me back, the risks are so high.”

Emilie Lemay, centre, poses with her husband and daughter while in Tulum, Mexico, in 2019. The family won’t be taking the trips they’d planned this year. (Submitted by Emilie Lemay)

Hope of a hot getaway this winter with family from Quebec is also a bust.

But the biggest heartbreak is missing out on a family reunion in Italy, she said. She was planning to travel with her mother, husband and daughter to meet some family members for the first time. Lemay had spent the last year learning Italian.

Since Air Canada cancelled the flight, Lemay and her husband have been fighting to get thousands of dollars back. Instead, the airline is offering them a credit to be used within two years.

Agencies not encouraging travel

CBC News contacted three Winnipeg travel agencies to find out if people feel confident in travelling this winter, and what — if any — bookings they are making. 

All three said while people are interested in travelling, they aren’t booking leisure trips. Instead, they are calling agencies to book flights to see immediate family they haven’t seen for months, and to learn about COVID-19 restrictions in different countries.

Walter Rodrigues owns Bestway Travel Agency in Winnipeg. He has been busy, but it has been with travel refunds. He’s also hearing from customers who need to travel home to see family in Europe, Africa and South America.

He has to walk them through COVID-19 regulations, quarantine restrictions and what happens if their destination becomes a hot spot and they can’t return home. The onus is all on the traveller, not the airline or the agency.

“Only those that really need to travel are travelling. Hopefully by next year we will have a vaccine,” Rodrigues said. “Even though airlines are offering incentives, the consumer has to feel 100 per cent sure and safe, and they don’t right now.”

A spokesperson for CAA said it is not seeing any significant interest in travellers wanting to go the southern United States or abroad. In a written statement, the spokesperson said, “We are not openly encouraging snowbirds to travel down south. With a travel advisory in place, CAA continues to follow guidance from Global Affairs.”

Global Affair responds

Both St. Jean and Lemay say it seems contradictory that airlines are offering free COVID-19 insurance to entice travellers at the same time the federal government is advising against non-essential travel outside Canada. 

While a spokesperson for Global Affairs says the advice is not binding, it is strongly recommended. 

In a written statement, the spokesperson said travellers are being warned “they may suddenly face strict restrictions at their destination, such as curfews, lockdowns and quarantines. Airlines could suspend flights without notice and Canada is not planning additional repatriation flights.”

Lemay said she doesn’t know if she will be able to use her airline credit before the two year limit runs out.

For St. Jean, it is all bittersweet.

“I wanted to make my last couple of years enjoyable,” she said.

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