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Alberta’s tourism industry speaks out against ‘confusing’ travel rules


‘It’s just incredibly confusing. At the end of the day, I don’t think we know much more than what the visitor knows. There isn’t a whole lot of clarity’

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Alberta’s travel and tourism industry is reeling from the federal government’s new non-essential travel advisory, calling for more predictability on COVID-19 restrictions and supports for businesses.

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The federal government on Wednesday warned Canadians against all non-essential travel outside the country amid spread of the Omicron variant. The advisory stops short of a mandatory restriction, but ministers hinted at the possibility of more measures on the way. Representatives in the travel industry said people have found the changing travel requirements confusing and want greater confirmation and predictability.

Darren Reeder, executive director of Tourism Industry Association of Alberta (TIAA), said the government’s new four-week advisory is likely to create more uncertainty for travellers during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

“The knock-down effect of this decision will likely have a debilitating impact on the many tourism businesses that remain at the financial brink as we close out a very challenging 2021,” Reeder said in an emailed statement. “Overall, the tourism industry remains a long way off from recovering to pre-COVID-19 levels.”

Reeder said the TIAA is also calling on the government to pass Bill C-2 to ensure that financial supports promised through the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery and Hardest-Hit Business Recovery programs flow to affected businesses as soon as possible.

The WestJet Group also expressed strong opposition to the travel advisory in a statement released after the announcement. The airline called on the government to publicly share evidence behind the decision, calling it “not based on science and data” and one that “significantly undermines aviation’s proven safety record in response to COVID-19.”

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“Air travel is the most tested and protected consumer activity in Canada, every person travelling internationally is tested on average twice throughout their travel journey,” Harry Taylor, WestJet president and CEO, said in the news release. “We are very concerned today’s announcement will create unnecessary disruption and chaos in advance of the holiday travel season.”

Banff and Lake Louise Tourism joined in calls for the government not to introduce additional travel restrictions, asking for more of a focus on “meaningful scientific interventions like testing and vaccination.”

“In Banff and Lake Louise, our communities are almost totally dependent on tourism. Our local businesses and their employees have been profoundly affected over the past two years,” the tourism organization wrote in an email to Postmedia.

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“Government has taken some significant steps to help our industry survive, like the proposed Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Fund, which we need implemented as soon as possible. But financial support will not be enough if government doesn’t remove unnecessary barriers to economic recovery.”

Skiers and snowboarders relaxed in the sun-soaked outdoor seating area outside Mad Trapper’s Saloon at Banff Sunshine Village on April 14, 2021.
Skiers and snowboarders relaxed in the sun-soaked outdoor seating area outside Mad Trapper’s Saloon at Banff Sunshine Village on April 14, 2021. Photo by Marie Conboy /Postmedia

Pete Woods, president of SkiBig3 travel agency in Banff, said uncertainty from government officials about further travel requirements or restrictions has been difficult to navigate.

“It’s just incredibly confusing. At the end of the day, I don’t think we know much more than what the visitor knows. There isn’t a whole lot of clarity,” he said.

“We really need the government to put together a process to be able to help define and put some predictability around when these variants emerge, because it’s likely to happen again. The process that we’ve seen right now is incredibly reactionary in a way where it didn’t need to be. From a timing standpoint, that puts all of us in a really difficult position.”

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Travellers are not cancelling bookings at mountain resorts yet, he said, but having the federal government speculate on further restrictions, at the same time Alberta’s UCP government announced a relaxation on gatherings, has added another layer of confusion ahead of the holidays.

“My heart goes out to the front-line staff that has to take it on the chin. Whenever these changes happen that aren’t clear, they’re the ones that are getting the phone calls or the frustrated guests in their face.”

Katie Kewley, travel adviser with Vision Travel in Calgary, said travellers booked their holiday trips when non-essential travel advisories were in place earlier this year. She said she doesn’t think many will cancel their trips following the announcement, but travellers are getting on planes wondering if they will get back into the country.

“If they say more regulations may be coming, don’t say that. Tell us exactly what’s coming. Tell us this is what’s going to happen when you arrive back into Calgary. If you’re going to be quarantined for 14 days — that will stop most people travelling. They shouldn’t hold it over our heads.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

bgervais@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB

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