With pandemic restrictions in the rear-view mirror (hopefully), travel bookings are up everywhere--on escorted coach tours, airline flights, and hotels. According to Nikola Berube, director of sales at AMA Travel, there's a dramatic increase in bookings, up from pandemic-restricted times, and--because of the minefield of changing restrictions from country to country--an increase of up to 30 per cent for consumers using a travel agent/counsellor to arrange and confirm travel.
"In my 33 years in the industry, I haven't seen this big of a comeback story," said Berube, pointing to huge demand for coach tours, cruises and all-inclusive vacations to sunshine destinations. "Some people are planning well ahead for cruises or bucket-list holidays to Greece, Egypt, Africa; while others are taking advantage of shorter, last-minute getaways to places like Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico. There's also a renewed interest in the 'on the ground experience', so people are keen on coach tours and using local guides at a destination.
Now that requirements are being dropped at many destinations, there's a huge uptick in demand, and more often, people are turning to travel counsellors to navigate the various restrictions/insurance etc."
Berube says countries including Ireland, Italy and the U.K have dropped all restrictions for Canadian travellers, while countries like Australia and New Zealand have lifted some. U.S. travel restrictions include proof of vaccine, negative antigen tests etc. which vary depending on whether it's land or air travel. The confusing drop of mask mandates on U.S. air carriers is an example of restrictions that vary from airport, to bus, to plane.
Checking Canadian government travel advisories is also important and always recommended, Berube says, not only around COVID-19, but also for areas where there's civil unrest. Experts remind that no matter where you plan to travel, make sure to check the Travel Advice and Advisories page for your destination twice: once when you are planning your trip, and again shortly before you leave.
"You always want to protect your trip with insurance, but coverage is not all the same--most insurers don't have blanket coverage. Travel during and post COVID-19 comes with risks, so consumers should know about exclusions, having a pre-existing or known health condition etc. as well as illness and hospitalization, trip interruption/cancellation coverage and more. Some credit cards offer coverage too--that's why using a travel counsellor to book a trip is a wise idea--you'll get the latest updates on whether and where vaccination is required, and be made aware of all the latest advisories," Berube said.
"COVID isn't going away, so we need to learn how to live and travel with it; to navigate if/when restrictions happen," she added. "Boomers continue to be the largest travel segment, but we see a lot of business with millennials too. Our job is to help all travel safely and confidently."
Pent-up demand from two years of a travel standstill, or those tired of the 'staycation', are part of the surge in airplane travel and bookings to sunny locales, Berube adds. "And cruising, the hardest and earliest hit from the pandemic, is the earliest to return too. The cruising industry, smaller, luxury river ships that are less crowded, but also the 'floating cities' with 6,000 people--are in demand again."
Berube says even though international travel is back on the front-burner for many, Albertans have an appreciation for travel within their own province and country that started during periods of lockdown.
"Local travel--road trips or close-to-home getaways remain popular, and Albertans definitely support local," Berube added. "One of the blessings of the pandemic is Albertans have been able to explore new parts of the province, from historical sites to the mountains to smaller cities and hidden gems. We've got lots of travel ideas at amatravel.ca/articles."