Refunds for cancelled trips. Vacations for half price. Pay just $50 down.
These are just some of the deals travel companies are offering Canadians to entice them to book now for a future trip — once it’s deemed safe to travel.
But some travel experts recommend Canadians refrain from making reservations now because the COVID-19 pandemic remains in full force and could still wreak havoc on upcoming vacation plans.
“My advice is to hold off for a little bit longer,” said Walter Rodrigues with Bestway Travel Agency in Winnipeg. He points to Alberta’s recent surge in COVID-19 infections as a sign the pandemic is far from over.
“Look at what’s happening in Alberta. It’s just getting worse and worse.”
Even so, several travel providers are encouraging Canadians to seal the deal now with the added protection of flexible change and cancellation policies.
People who book a Sunwing or Air Transat vacation package this month for travel during a limited period will get what Air Transat calls “early bird perks.” They include a deposit payment of $100 (down from $250), free trip changes and a refund if they cancel at least 25 days before departure.
Air Canada Vacations is offering similar deals, including a trip deposit of just $50 and a full refund if the airline cancels your flight because of COVID-19. Plus, customers can get up to 50 per cent off select destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean and the U.S. this summer — if they book by May 24.
“Tomorrow will be made of vacations!” Air Canada Vacations declares on its website.
‘We need people to get travelling’
Tour companies are also trying to entice Canadians to get on board. G Adventures, a small-group tour operator based in Toronto, is offering 15 per cent off select tours with booking dates as early as this summer.
“We need people to get travelling again, so we’re going to incentivize people through their pocketbooks,” said G-Adventures owner Bruce Poon Tip. He said his tours include a flexible change policy should customers need to rearrange their plans.
“Travel’s eventually coming back, but it’s a very fluid situation.”
Currently, the federal government advises against non-essential travel abroad because of the ongoing pandemic. On top of that, Ottawa has given no indication when it will end its requirement that travellers entering Canada take multiple COVID-19 tests and quarantine for 14 days — a portion of which must be spent in a designated hotel if you’re an air passenger.
However, there are signs of hope on the travel horizon. After attending a G7 transport ministers’ virtual meeting on Wednesday, Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he and his counterparts are committed to working together on eventually resuming travel — with tools such as a vaccine passport.
“At the centre of this effort must be a co-ordinated approach for testing and a common platform for recognizing the vaccinated status of travellers,” said Alghabra in a statement.
‘My name is on that date’
Rebecca Priestley of Hubbards, N.S., is counting on international travel taking off by January. That’s because she has already booked a 28-day tour of South Africa that month with G Adventures.
Priestley was set to go on a tour with the company last year, but it was cancelled because of the pandemic. Although the pandemic hasn’t ended, the travel enthusiast decided to take a chance and rebook her trip.
“If people do start getting desperate to travel again, at least my name is on that date,” she said. “I’ve got something planned — even if the plans fall apart again.”
But many Canadians aren’t ready to take the plunge. CBC News spoke with several travel agents who said few clients at this point have booked a vacation for the coming months.
Travel consultant Rodrigues said he has no bookings, only inquiries, and that he’s advising clients to hold off until the pandemic subsides.
“You want to go to your destination and come home and I can’t guarantee that.”
Rodrigues said that flexible change and cancellation policies won’t protect travellers if they’re already at their destination and a sudden resurgance of COVID-19 cases sparks a lockdown and cancelled flights.
“You’ll have [a] hard time getting back,” said Rodrigues. “Like everything else, buyer beware.”
What about travel insurance?
There’s also the question of travel insurance. Many travel insurance providers have reinstated medical coverage for COVID-19-related illnesses. But travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said it’s currently impossible to get full COVID-19-related cancellation coverage because COVID-19 is now a known problem.
If travellers “choose to cancel because a [no-travel] advisory comes into place, or a country bars all visiting because of an outbreak, none of that will be covered at this point,” said Firestone with Travel Secure in Toronto.
WATCH: Vaccine passports may be needed to travel abroad, prime minister says:
Firestone acknowledges some airlines are offering flexible cancellation policies, but said that deal may not apply to all of a traveller’s bookings, such as their accommodation or tours.
“It’s not going to get you back the $6,000 of monthly rental costs of a condo and it’s not going to get you back the $20,000 bike trip [in] Italy.”
As for Priestley, she’s holding out hope that, come January, she’ll finally be able to take her trip.
“If it goes ahead, great. If it doesn’t, well, it’ll get cancelled again and I’ll go somewhere when I can.”