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While the federal government has formally announced that Canadians will no longer need to obtain a negative PCR COVID-19 test result to re-enter Canada after a trip of 72 hours or less, the testing requirement for visitors to enter Canada is holding back the country’s key tourism destinations.
Earlier this month, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable and business operators in Banff, Alta., called on the federal government to remove the pre-departure PCR test for fully vaccinated travellers as we enter Canada’s busy ski season.
“This year, we are once again facing a government that seems indifferent to the needs of travel and tourism operators, choosing to impose unnecessary pre-departure tests on fully vaccinated international visitors,” a statement from Pete Woods, President and CEO of SkiBig3, from Nov. 9 reads. “This policy has real impacts on Banff and Lake Louise businesses like SkiBig3.”
“This costly, confusing and cumbersome process sends a clear message to our skiers and snowboarders: keep out. Without international travellers, many businesses like SkiBig3 are facing an existential crisis and can't predict with any confidence how many staff to hire. Ski season has kicked off and we will be faced with mass international cancellations if something is not done soon."
At a press conference announcing the new changes to the testing rule for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and individuals registered under the Indian Act, Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos said that we still “cannot let our guard down,” but indicated the federal government is "re-evaluating" the entry requirements for American citizens coming to Canada.
“Every one of us must work to protect the gains we have made,” Duclos said. “Winter weather is setting in across the country and pushing us indoors where COVID-19 can spread more easily.”
Barrier to pandemic recovery
For Banff & Lake Louise Tourism, Angela Anderson, director of media and communications, stressed that they still support “everything that's keeping people safe,” but they continue to look to the federal government for support to make travel easier, allowing the hard-hit tourism industry to recover.
“We really are hoping that they'll look at those barriers to our recovery, that aren't necessary to keep people safe and healthy,” Anderson told Yahoo Canada.
“One of those things is looking at the PCR test and that whole process,...it is expensive, it is absolutely prohibitive for particularly families who are traveling and have to provide a number of negative PCR tests when they're already fully vaccinated, and there's other testing available.”
Banff and Lake Louise have been able to see some regional visitors to keep businesses “afloat,” largely day visitors who are going to restaurant and retail businesses, but Anderson said there is still a “long way to go” in recovery more broadly, particularly for international travel to the destination.
For Whistler, another popular Canadian travel destination, Lauren Everest, senior manager of communications and membership with Tourism Whistler, told Yahoo Canada that heading into the winter season, the destination was forecasting occupancy at the resort at 64 per cent, 42 percentage points ahead of winter 2020, but still behind the 2018-2019 winter season.
“We've been fortunate in that we have been seeing a return of interest in tourism to Whistler, since governments have lifted their advisories against non-essential travel,” Everest explained.
When it comes to the PCR COVID-19 test requirement for fully vaccinated visitors to enter Canada, she said it is “absolutely" remaining a "hurdle.”
“Whistler is seeing strong demand from our U.K. market, we're also seeing quite a bit of demand from our U.S. drive market in Washington State...and Mexico as well,” Everest said.
“Absolutely, we know that our international markets are going to take longer to recover, and the COVID-19 testing and vaccine requirements for those travellers are hurdles that remain in place for those markets.”