As many Canadians seek to explore closer to home, and ongoing restrictions make it virtually impossible for international travel to resume for Canadians for the foreseeable future, many in the travel industry are setting their sights on the world of domestic travel. But is selling Canada the answer to business woes? Hear from The Travel Corporation, Anderson Vacations, Guided Toronto and Guided North, as they navigate the challenges and opportunities of going local.
Although The Travel Corporation has been in business in Canada since 1968 with the opening of its Trafalgar office, the company’s president Jeff Element says they recently decided to offer trips for Canadians as a means to revitalize local economies and support businesses from coast to coast.
“Despite this challenging time, as a guided holidays operator, we felt it was important to create local immersive experiences throughout this incredible nation of ours,” Element tells Travel Courier.
For example, Contiki launched a range of affordable local adventures in Whistler and Banff with the first trips departing in early December, Trafalgar will offer a trip to experience Canada’s Northern Lights trip in Churchill, Manitoba in February 2021 and clients can explore the east coast on Insight Vacations’ Landscapes of the Maritimes journey with departures beginning in June 2021. And if early bookings are an indication, Element says the decision is already paying off.
“We are so pleased to see that Contiki has already started receiving bookings for their Whistler and Banff trips, which indicates that young people would like to explore the great outdoors in Canada and hit the slopes before the end of the year,” he says. “As the lockdown restrictions were eased this past summer, we have seen the emerging travel trend of clients wanting to explore our own backyard and it started in each province with local trips. We have seen across social media, Canadians sharing their domestic holiday experiences and discovering local places and sights for the first time. So we are hoping that in the coming months that the travel bubbles will open up and Canadians can visit other provinces for leisure trips.”
Element says that by first offering these local trips, agents can help restore their clients’ confidence in travelling again.
“Clients want to connect to experiences closer to home and they are also feeling nostalgic about revisiting some of their favourite places as well as new destinations,” he says. “Our guests will see the iconic Canadian sites but also the hidden gems along the way with various foodie, artisan and local experiences. Also, Canada offers so much diversity and stunning natural landscapes that there is something to see and do for everyone.”
Looking to the recovery of the industry, he sees agents playing a vital role in the future of travel.
“There is a greater comfort level to travel within Canada. Agents need to emphasize to their clients that they can have a hassle-free holiday by working with an expert travel advisor,” he says. “Agents have the knowledge around which travel bubbles are opening up across the provinces, updated quarantine regulations, new COVID-19 protocols at the domestic airports such as temperature checks and recommended preparations during the flight journeys, etc. These can be confusing to clients as travel updates change week by week so having access to a travel advisor helps to reduce information overload. Most of all, in this new world of travel, clients can rely on their trusted agents from the inception to the completion of their vacations. Highly skilled travel advisors know all about the art of personalization.”
As an international tour operator, he points out that they receive rave reviews from guests from different countries about the wonders of Canada as a top bucket list destination.
“Canadians are now seeing our country with ‘fresh eyes’ with a more appreciative perspective,” he says. “Clients are also yearning to connect with nature and Canada offers an amazing balance of scenic landscapes and urban excursions. Agents can take this opportunity to showcase the best experiences that Canada has to offer with TTC while working on securing bookings later this year and next year. We are all in this together for the long haul.”
During this ‘new normal,’ he says travel is continuing to evolve despite the uncertainty of knowing when things will open again.
“As an organization, we needed to quickly pivot and adapt to the current climate and we did so by offering smaller group sized trips to respect physical distancing protocols while still offering exceptional service. We also have to keep building a sustainable business and are preparing for our 2021 year round trip offerings and new experiences so we are ready to warmly welcome back guests. I think one of our biggest challenges will be to demonstrate to our guests that it is okay to venture out past their front door. As a society, we have followed the rules and hunkered down in our homes. However, there is a big world out there that keeps going around and I for one don’t want to miss out on all the great things this amazing world still has to offer.”
At Anderson Vacations, Darcie Guarderas, director of business development and operations, says they are currently accepting bookings and remain hopeful for the remainder of the year.
“There are many requests for self-drive packages and city stay packages as clients are looking to explore, but not necessarily quite ready for a group experience just yet,” she says. “As long as we all continue to social distance and follow the rules we are confident that things will slowly start to return to somewhat normal and our winter tours look very promising.”
Anderson Vacations, which offers fully customizable vacation packages within Canada that include self-drive itineraries, RV rentals, city stay packages and small group fully escorted tours to every province and territory in Canada, works in partnership with the travel advisor community across the country.
“At the moment, all of our business is Canadian customers and we are proud to say they are booking through Canadian travel agents,” she says.
Aside from the obvious, Guarderas says there are so many reasons for advisors to focus on Canada as an option for clients.
“Firstly, we live in the most beautiful country in the world!” she says. “There has never been a more important time for Canadians to support local businesses by traveling in their own backyard. Clients are searching for wide open spaces and that is exactly what Canada offers.”
However, she says it can be challenging operating while playing “the waiting game.”
“Some provincial borders have restrictions in place. For example, the Yukon is not open to every province, so we are patiently waiting for the borders to open up and allow Canadians to explore the entire country,” she explains.
Overall, she says many agents continue to be very proactive by going after new business.
“The key is for agents to let their clients know that they can sell Canada, and promote their own back yard,” she says. “We are working very closely with our agency partners with custom flyers, Happy Hour presentations, and even marketing campaigns. Anderson Vacations supports our agency partners and by working together, we see a bright light ahead.”
Meanwhile, Gabrielle Nydam, the owner and managing director of Guided Toronto and Guided North, says there isn’t enough demand to operate based solely on Canadian travellers.
“The domestic market is only 10% of my business in the past years and this obviously dropped as people weren’t sure what they should do,” Nydam tells Travel Courier. “There has been an uptake in demand in the month of August, but it’s actually quite limited in space at the moment, as many hotels, restaurants, parks, and attractions have limiting capacity. So all in all, the local demand for us this summer was too little too late.”
The tour provider, which offers domestic private guided services in Toronto and across Canada, is currently only accepting limited, private guided requests for 2021.
“We decided to close off any requests for the 2020 season back in June as the 14-day quarantine was limiting our international visitors,” she explains. “Our goal at the moment is to get our tech systems updated for faster quoting, adding unique and diverse products for 2021, and renegotiating rates for next year. Since we are a newer business starting in 2018, this is a good way for us to build up the company, but not great for sales numbers, obviously.”
However, she points out that it’s still wise for travel advisors to focus on the Canadian market because there is so much to see in Canada, “that we have been neglecting to see.”
“We also need to be smart and promote to people that we know can travel safely, and at the moment the reality is Canadians are our only sure bet, and we will need to wait for US and Europeans,” she continues, adding that the company works with travel agencies. “The demand for Canadian product is up, in a way their interest in Guided North has increased in the last four months, a sales rush hasn’t hit us yet, but I’m confident next year they will.”
As for challenges, she says it’s difficult to operate a business while dealing with uncertainty surrounding stability, safety, and so many other unknown variables.
“We have yet to see a surge in travel, and without the international market, we are at a standstill, working at a fraction of our capacity. So 2020 for us very much put a pause button on our growth,” she says. “But it did remind the local market and increase the appeal of traveling local. The question now is when can we press ‘play’ again on travel. It’s what we are all waiting for and the reality is how long can we afford to wait for that to happen. Overall I’m quite confident it will come back in 2021 and we just need to all get ready for the surge when it comes.”