The travel and tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Border closures, restrictions and ultimately trip cancellations have led to the permanent closure of a number of travel agencies in Ontario.
“Over the last five years, we had 2,500 agencies in the province. That number has been declining steadily over the years as a result of new business models,” said Richard Smart, the CEO of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).
“However, in the last year, the floodgates opened. We’ve seen about 10 per cent attrition, that’s about 250 to 300 agencies and branches close business this year.”
TICO regulates and oversees the travel industry for Ontario including travel agencies, agents and tour operators.
Smart said a number of agencies have been working in the red.
“Consumers are booking beyond a year out and what’s happening with a lot of agencies is having to cancel and rebook, mostly cancel vacations and business travel, resulting in reversal of business that was put on the books previously.”
TICO is also a consumer protection agency and has a compensation fund for travellers. Those who lose travel services can make a claim against its fund.
“So far, and the pandemic isn’t over, the number of claims have been relatively low, given the magnitude of the pandemic. The agencies that have closed have done so in an orderly way with the end consumer,” Smart said.
Smart cautions that there will likely be more closures of agencies in 2021 as the pandemic drags on. But he is optimistic that there will be a new normal for travel sooner than later.
“There are travel advisories that we need to respect, but when it is right and time to travel again, I think consumers are going to be in for some positive surprises down the road. We’re not far away from some positive days for travel ahead.”
In Peterborough, it’s been a tough year for Marlin Travel.
“In my 37 years of travel, I’ve seen H1N1, SARS and 9/11, but this was a much larger beast,” said owner Mary LaRocque.
In October, LaRocque pivoted the business to survive by launching the Travel n Style Boutique, which has wares from local artisans as well as clothing, at the travel agency location.
More recently, business is starting to pick up on the travel side of things.
“The last week, we’ve seen an uptick in interest in travelling again which is really exciting,” she said. “There’s an interest in all-inclusives coming back strongly. People are looking for January, February and March for next year. Some hotels, like Sandals and Beaches, some rooms have already sold out.”
LaRocque says there will be a large demand in southern travel once restrictions drop so it’s important to book early to avoid a supply issue.
“The capacity levels will be tight. The suppliers are very flexible. They have COVID-19 insurance and allow you to cancel up to 30 days before travel. There’s a lot of rules and regulations to encourage people to go ahead and feel safe to go ahead and plan that winter holiday for next year.”
LaRocque notes there has been no interest in travel for the now pushed back March Break to mid-April in Ontario due to high COVID-19 levels and zone restrictions including in Peterborough, which is in the red zone under the province’s colour-coded framework.
For the summer, Marlin Travel is offering day trip experiences to areas including Picton, 1000 Islands and Kingston.
And for those who received travel vouchers after having to cancel trips in 2020, LaRocque advises using a travel agent to help you navigate through rebooking.