Leaders of industry groups representing Canada’s travel and tourism sector are calling on the federal government to lift some border measures, saying Canada’s reputation as a tourist destination depends on it.
“The travel, tourism and hospitality sectors have been hardest hit during the pandemic. Necessary public health restrictions shut down many of our businesses, most of which barely made it through 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’s finally our turn to recover. The trip is back with a vengeance and we couldn’t 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 long delays at airports resulting from duplicate health checks, random arrival tests and other “unnecessary restrictions” as major obstacles to the industry’s rebound.
She noted that other countries like Italy, the UK and Switzerland have fully opened up and are “extremely competitive destinations”.
“We believe Canada should follow suit,” she said.
Monette Pasher, Acting President and CEO of the Canadian Airports Council, presented three requests from the group to help reduce bottlenecks at airports.
These include the removal of mandatory random testing at airports, the removal of duplicate Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) health screening questions at checkpoints, and the ability for security personnel not vaccinated to return to work.
Pasher said airport traffic will only increase as the summer travel season intensifies and it will be “challenging to manage this level of traffic with legacy public health protocols.”
She urged the government to remove border restrictions by June 15.
PHAC announced on May 31 that the current measures for travelers entering Canada have been extended until at least the end of June.
Patrick Doyle, vice president and general manager of American Express Global Business Travel, said recent government action was encouraging but it was not enough and action was needed “quickly”.
“Our reputation is at stake,” he said at the June 1 press conference.
Transport Canada announcement May 27 plans to increase airport staff and other measures to address bottlenecks and improve efficiency.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) also indicated in a May 31 report that the government had allocated additional funding of $330 million to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), which had not been announced in previous budgets.
“The additional funding could allow CATSA to cope with the usual seasonal increase in air travel in the summer,” Lily The report.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the government’s travel measures on June 1 when asked about growing pressure from the tourism industry.
“Well, the reality is that as much as people would love to pretend we are not, we are still in a pandemic,” Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill.
“We are still in danger. We are particularly at risk as we approach fall with new variants. We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep Canadians safe.
Trudeau also said last week at a media event in Vancouver that “it’s great to put this pandemic a bit behind us even though we know we have to continue to be vigilant.”
Pressure on the federal government to lift travel restrictions has grown steadily in recent days.
On May 24, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged the government to lift travel restrictions citing “massive delays” at airports.
On May 31, the CEO of Canadian airline WestJet, Alexis von Hoensbroech, called on Ottawa to drop the vaccination mandate for travel, saying there was “no more logic in keeping it going.”
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 .