COVID-19: Travel industry wants testing requirements loosened

Greater Vancouver Board of Trade CEO Bridgitte Anderson says having to do pre-departure PCR tests is “costly” and “cumbersome” for travellers.

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Travel industry officials in Vancouver are calling on the federal government to drop the pre-departure COVID-19 test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers coming to Canada, saying it is hurting hotel and conference bookings.

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“The federal government’s own expert panel, in fact, does not recommend the approach. They said it’s unnecessary for fully vaccinated travellers,” said the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade CEO, Bridgitte Anderson, referring to Ottawa’s COVID-19 testing and screening expert advisory panel.

The panel’s report calls for eliminating pre-departure molecular PCR tests and testing for fully vaccinated travellers 10 days after arrival, but it says for “surveillance purposes, administer PCR tests on arrival.”

The recent reopening of the land border with the U.S. was a welcome step, but Anderson said that having to do pre-departure PCR tests was “costly” and “cumbersome” for travellers.

She estimated costs of up to $1,000 for a family of four to get the pre-departure PCR testing that is currently required.

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“The added cost of a PCR test makes travel to Vancouver more expensive. That makes us less competitive with every destination in the world competing for the fully vaccinated traveller,” said Karen Soyka, vice-president of strategy and business development of Destination Vancouver.

While local and domestic travellers have so far propped up local tourism, “travellers from the United States bring in nearly double what a domestic traveller spends in our destination, and other international visitors spend nearly three times as much as a domestic traveller,” said Soyka.

She said that, in 2020, 193 different business meetings and events booked for Vancouver were cancelled.

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“That was because of where we were at that time,” said Soyka. “But what we need to do now is bring that business back into our destination.”

“More so than others, B.C.’s hospitality sector is heavily dependent on international travel,” said Mike Macleod, director of the B.C. Hotel Association.

“The lead time and in terms of those groups and events, they need to book, in some cases — the bigger the event, the longer the lead time — two, three, four, five years,” said Macleod.

“And despite the broad availability of vaccines and a stable COVID-19 case count and hospitalizations across the country, many of our members are facing another winter season of staff cutbacks, low revenues and decisions by foreign guests to stay home.”

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Mike Macleod, director of the B.C. Hotel Association, speaks at the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable Nov. 10, 2021 in Vancouver.
Mike Macleod, director of the B.C. Hotel Association, speaks at the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable Nov. 10, 2021 in Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /PNG

“We’re still treading water across the province at about 50 per cent occupancy. We are about to go into a ski season. We have many hotel operators in the Interior, the Kootenays, areas like that. They want to welcome Americans back, for example. They want to take advantage of potentially great early season conditions. But they’re nervous about reaching out to those guests about coming and making a last minute decision because these barriers are in place.”

“We’ve been extremely patient as a business community. You look around at other sectors that are thriving. I walked by several film crews on the way over here today. There are businesses that are thriving. We know there are areas of the economy that are growing. Our sector has not. We’ve been in a sort of a stagnant standstill.”

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