Despite the Omicron variant and the government advisory against non-essential travel, Canadians are still packing their suitcases. According to data from the Canada Border Services Agency, 742,400 Canadians returned to Canada via air in December — a dramatic increase from 93,800 the previous year. As well, 608,900 Canadian residents returned from the United States by car, more than four times the 146,000 who arrived in December 2020.
Over the past week, Caitlin Lajeunesse of Vacations by Caitlin with Independent by Flight Centre says she’s been flooded with inquiries again.
“It’s the rollercoaster of the industry. Busy, quiet, busy again,” she says. “I am so happy to see clients are getting excited to travel again, I truly feel that we are finally making our way past the last hurdle and that brighter, easier, travel days are ahead.”
As for travel timelines, she says it’s a mixture of some last minute bookings and a bulk of planning ahead.
“I am receiving some inquiry for travel in the next month or two, which I will book as long as clients are fully aware of what to expect with the current travel protocols and requirements,” she says. “Most of my inquiry however is for late fall, and Christmas next year. I have booked eight new Christmas trips in the past two weeks. Clients are hopeful, as am I.”
However, it’s essential that clients who are travelling now have proper insurance coverage that will cover the costs of quarantine etc., in order to be prepared in case things don’t go according to plan.
“Resorts are changing protocol weekly so it’s important to be properly covered as things can change at any time,” she says. “I think some brands will continue to offer the quarantine stay, and this will be a big selling feature. Many clients are asking for this specifically when looking at resorts, however, it’s important they know this could change at any time.”
Overall, she’s happy suppliers are still offering robust flexible booking options “to give both the client and myself peace of mind while I continue to charge fees for the service I provide so I am not working for free if plans change.”
Looking ahead, she expects Christmas and New Years sun trips will sell out quickly across the top brands she works with in Mexico and the Caribbean.
“I am advising my clients to book early,” she says. “Take advantage of the early booking savings and secure their spot to avoid disappointment.”
Over at Collette, Executive Vice President Jeff Roy believes the tour operator’s cancel for any reason policy is a major driver for shorter booking windows.
“We’re experiencing a significant demand for domestic tours in both spring and summer of 2022,” Roy tells Travel Courier. “It’s clear that booking windows are mapping out to be about half the time of pre-pandemic; as short as three to six months in time depending on location… we know that guests can dream about travelling with the safety of knowing that there’s no penalty to cancel if need be.”
Similarly, Tauck’s Chief Operating Officer Jeremy Palmer acknowledges very strong bookings to the U.S. National Parks and the Canadian West.
“Both great destinations that advisors can recommend to clients who may still prefer to stay close to home,” he adds. “There’s a great sense of spirit, a resolute determination to travel.”
However, for 2022 Tauck is also seeing very strong interest in Europe for both its land journeys and river cruises, “with Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Portugal especially popular.”
At G Adventures, David Green, managing director, Canada, says their “current lead time for bookings is at four months, which is around the same time frame we were looking at pre-pandemic, but a lot shorter than we’ve seen over the bulk of the pandemic.”
Green says this indicates people are looking at short-term travel where there is more certainty around what is open and what is needed for travel.
“In terms of our short-term booking trends, Central America and Europe are popular right now and we’re still seeing increasing interest in Active trips, which accounted for 26 per cent of our Canadian bookings for January,” he said. “There’s also the opportunity for agents to target private group travel to capitalize on this trend.”
Sheralyn Berry, President of Contiki Canada, notes that certain popular destinations are already starting to book up for the summer travel months.
“Departure dates for trips such as Greek Island Hopping and Simply Italy are filling up,” she tells Travel Courier. “Europe is still the #1 choice at this time, but what is different about 2022 vs. historically, is we’re seeing a new range of destinations being sought after by the young clients. These guests have spent years researching where they want to go and what experiences they want to fulfill, they are not going to sit back any longer and they are booking. We are excited to see what the months ahead have in store.”
Berry says six of Contiki’s most popular multi-country trips can be booked now for travel in peak summer season for shoulder season prices, including European Horizon, European Highlights, European Magic and European Quest.
“If advisors have a client who is set on a certain destination, itinerary or experience, best to get the deposit in now,” she suggests.
Meanwhile, Tara Sparshu, Professional Travel Consultant with TierOne Travel, says the booking window for Europe tends to be shorter as European countries have had more fluid and changing entry requirements.
“Mexico and the Caribbean countries have had pretty consistent entry requirements and we haven’t seen a lot of changes so it makes it easier to plan this type of travel,” she says. “For me and my clients, the biggest concerns have been the Canadian Government travel advisories, restrictions and ongoing protocols.”
Sparshu notes that clients have been booking all-inclusive trips to the Caribbean or Mexico seven to nine months in advance with the hopes that Canadian restrictions would be lifted or lessened by now.
“Unfortunately, many of my passengers that booked in spring and summer 2021 for travel this winter have since cancelled because of the increased and ongoing restrictions and the re-introductions of the no non-essential travel advisory,” she says. “The confirmed bookings I have now are still nine plus months in advance. Most of them are for the Caribbean and Mexico and are now for travel in fall 2022 and winter 2023. I have had a few inquiries for Europe for spring but nothing that has been confirmed.”