Leaders of industry groups representing the Canadian travel and tourism sector are calling on the federal government to lift some border measures, saying Canada’s reputation as a tourist-friendly destination depends on it.
“The travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors were the hardest hit during the pandemic. Necessary public health restrictions shuttered many of our businesses, most of whom barely made it to the other side,” said Susie Grynol, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada.
“We did our part to keep Canadians safe, and now it is finally our turn to recover. Travel is back with a vengeance and we could not be happier. But the passenger experience at our Canadian airports is a challenge.”
Grynol was speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on June 1 with other representatives of the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable.
She cited lengthy airport delays stemming from duplicated health checks, random arrivals testing, and other “unnecessary restrictions” as major hindrances to the industry’s rebound.
She noted other countries like Italy, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland have fully opened up and are “fiercely competitive destinations.”
“We believe that Canada should follow suit,” she said.
Monette Pasher, interim president and CEO of the Canadian Airports Council, presented three demands from the group to help reduce bottlenecks in airports.
These include removing the mandatory random testing in airports, removing the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) duplicate health check questions at checkpoints, and allowing unvaccinated security staff to return to work.
Pasher said airport traffic will only increase as the summer travel season ramps up and it will be “challenging to manage that level of traffic with leftover legacy public health protocols.”
She urged the government to remove the border restrictions before June 15.
PHAC announced on May 31 that current measures for travellers entering Canada were being extended until at least the end of June.
Patrick Doyle, vice-president and general manager of American Express Global Business Travel, said recent steps taken by the government were encouraging but it’s not enough, and that “swift” action must be taken.
“Our reputation is at stake,” he said at the June 1 press conference.
Transport Canada announced on May 27 plans to increase airport staffing and other measures to address bottlenecks and improve efficiency.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) also indicated in a May 31 report the government has earmarked an additional $330 million in funding for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) which wasn’t announced in previous budgets.
“The additional funding may allow CATSA to accommodate the usual seasonal increase in summer air travel,” read the report.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the government’s travel measures on June 1 when asked about the increasing pressure from the tourism industry.
“Well, the reality is as much as people would like to pretend we’re not, we’re still in a pandemic,” Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill.
“We’re still at risk. We’re particularly at risk as fall approaches with new variants. We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep Canadians safe.”
Trudeau also said last week during a media event in Vancouver that “it’s great to put this pandemic somewhat behind us even though we know we continue to have to be vigilant.”
Pressure on the federal government to lift travel restrictions has been steadily building in recent days.
On May 24, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged the government to lift travel restrictions citing “massive delays” at airports.
Meanwhile, a Tory motion that called for a return to pre-pandemic travel rules was defeated this week in the House of Commons.
While the Bloc Québécois and NDP voted against the motion, along with most of the Liberal party, two Liberal MPs dissented, with MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith later openly calling for an end to the vaccine travel mandate.