How’s it going, really?

Sheila Gallant-Halloran describes her job as a travel advisor as being “at least three times more complicated than it was before COVID.”

Why? The owner Lush Life Travel, an affiliate of Vision Travel, explains that among other things she now has to guide clients through constantly shifting requirements before proceeding with a single booking.

“It’s wild, but as a travel advisor, I have to check not only my clients’ passports, but also their vaccine records right now,” Gallant-Halloran tells Travel Courier. “I have to check and recheck entry requirements for countries with tools like Sherpa and IATA Timatic, and cross reference and check against each country’s specific rules. I also have to check not just that my clients are vaccinated, but also which vaccines they have. Many Canadians have AstraZeneca or a mixed dose regimen of vaccines… and the rules of entry can differ for countries or cruise lines as to whether those with AstraZeneca or a mixed dose are considered fully vaccinated.”

The Virtuoso travel advisor believes a universally accepted vaccine passport for travellers would go along way — but is realistic that it won’t come soon enough — and fully supports the industry shift towards vaccination requirements for travel.

“I am fully supportive about requiring travellers to be fully vaccinated to travel, and my clients are too, whether it’s a tour operator, an airline, a rail company, a river cruise company — everyone,” she says. “I honestly don’t think I’d recommend any unvaccinated passengers to travel internationally right now. Else, they’d run the risk of rules changing either before they go, or after they got to where they were and get stuck, or quarantined.”

Although bookings started to increase back in March and April as Canada’s vaccine rates started to climb, she says they’ve hit a plateau again since the news of the onset of the Delta variant and cases mounting in the US.

“I’m still cancelling and rebooking trips, which is exhausting. Sometimes, travel advisors, especially ITAs, can feel like we have a bit of PTSD. It was not fun to have some world cruises and polar trips cancel again recently,” she says. “But, I am seeing more of my clients start to book, and hearing from some clients I hadn’t booked in five plus years. Some are venturing to Europe now, either on river cruises, or I’m customizing FITs to visit one or two countries. Some are travelling across Canada with summer or fall bookings to Newfoundland, and the Rocky Mountaineer, as well as some Northern Lights trips in the spring.”

However, Gallant-Halloran notes that 85% of her current client bookings are spread out over 2022 and 2023.

“It used to be we were worried about over-tourism,” she says. “Now we have to worry about the impact of 18 months of under-tourism, and the devastation to the entire travel and tourism industry,” she says. “One in ten jobs worldwide are in the travel and tourism industry, and until travel and tourism recovers, there will be no economic stability. Every piece of our travel and tourism industry has been severely impacted. We need more government protections and funding for the travel and tourism sector in Canada (and not just all inbound initiatives). And we all have to all work together to rebuild, and ensure we do it sustainably. Re-generative travel will be key for all of us. We have to build a new normal together.”

Travel advisor Leah Holt of Go Travel With Leah recently returned from sailing around Bermuda aboard the Viking Orion.

“This cruise also included a tour of the various cabin types and travel advisor training with Viking reps onboard,” Holt tells Travel Courier. “It was so refreshing to be able to hop on a plane again with the anticipation of a vacation around the corner.”

However, the trip entailed a lot more pre-planning with requirements for a PCR test within 72 hours of departure, the Bermuda Travel Authorization form approval, proof of vaccination and a PCR test upon arrival.

“Viking did an amazing job with their COVID protocols,” she says. “Every day started with a COVID spit test, a quick health survey and then at your first visit to the restaurant each day you would have your temperature checked. We wore a contact tracer on a lanyard around our neck which we put on when we left our rooms and were diligent in washing our hands and wearing our masks when indoors. The best part was that Viking actually has their own lab onboard and even provides you with free COVID test results for your return flight home.”

For anyone contemplating a cruise right now, especially clients, she stresses that it’s important to choose your cruise line and destination carefully.

“Not all cruise lines have the same COVID protocols and because of that not all lines have been successful at restarting,” she says. “Make sure to book with your trusted travel advisor as no one is as informed as they are. Entry requirements for every country are constantly changing and a professional travel advisor can make your travel journey stress free and straightforward. One plus side to these times is that most tour operators have very flexible change and cancellation policies, which can help to give you peace of mind. Remember though, travel insurance is still a smart idea!”

Meanwhile, at her agency, she says bookings are starting to pick up.

“I sell groups and have three different groups that I am hosting for next year. One is sold out and the other two are filling up,” she says. “The first bulk of my clients are travelling at Christmas this year to the Caribbean and Mexico. The second bulk of clients are travelling March and April to Europe.”

After such a positive experience travelling to Bermuda and cruising with Viking, Holt looks forward to taking her family to Mexico in November and then cruising with AmaWaterways in December.

“To experience personally how various tour operators and resorts are implementing COVID protocols allows me to better advise my clients,” she adds.

Roger Villiers of Maritime Travel Victoria has also recently returned home from travel experiences in Switzerland and Toronto.

“I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as difficult as one would think,” Villiers tells Travel Courier. “The airlines have done a good job at making people feel at ease about flying. I am now able to pass along my experience to my clients, which I hope will help them make a decision if travel is right for them in the near future.”

Villiers says the bulk of his bookings are throughout 2022 and he’s unsure whether or not those with trips on the docket for 2021 will actually still travel.

“Bookings resumed about six months ago fairly briskly, but there has been a pause over the last month as infection numbers surged,” he says. “I feel once numbers start to drop we will see a resuming of bookings… I hope.”

However, he says some of the hurdles that remain include the U.S. border closure and the testing requirements for both entering countries and returning to Canada.

As for the revival of the cruise industry, Villiers believes safety is a top priority that will help ensure smooth sailing ahead.

“From all of the info I have received from cruise lines, I feel that they have taken all the right steps and precautions possible to try and make the cruising experience as pleasant as possible,” he says. “Sure, some people won’t like the idea of having to wear a mask in inside common areas, but true cruiser are willing to do this so they can get back on the high seas. I’m sure land tour companies are taking similar precautions to ensure peoples safety.”

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