COVID-19 pandemic uncertainty scrambles post-vaccination getaway plans

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For more than four decades, Christine Mak travelled every year to Disney parks and various conventions to commune with fellow fans of fantasy and science fiction. But her streak was interrupted early last year when the COVID-19 crisis halted cross-border celebrations.

The Toronto resident thought vaccination would be her ticket to reuniting with the global group of friends she’s made through shared enthusiasm for the British sci-fi serial “Doctor Who” and all things Disney.

Soon after she received her first COVID-19 shot in March, Mak started making arrangements to get back on the U.S. circuit of pop-culture destinations, booking tickets to Florida theme-park capital Orlando and “Doctor Who” conventions in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Read more: Thinking of travelling? Here’s where mixed COVID-19 vaccines aren’t accepted

But then the more contagious Delta variant emerged.

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As case counts recently climbed in Florida, Mak scrapped her planned pilgrimage to Walt Disney World in January.

With dire assessments persisting for parts of the United States, she now wonders if the rest of her travel itinerary is just wishful thinking.

“It’s so disappointing that after doing everything right, we’re almost back to square one,” says Mak, who worries she could lose hundreds of dollars in cancellation fees if her other trips are thwarted.

“I love travelling. You can only make so many cakes and putter around your garden for so long.”

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Mak is among many Canadians whose post-vaccination vacation plans have been scrambled by the pandemic, with ongoing COVID-19 uncertainty and ever-changing global travel rules complicating excursions, be they across the border or across the pond.

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A number of Canadian concertgoers have taken to Billy Joel’s Facebook page to express dismay that the ongoing closure of the U.S.-Canada land border will prevent them from driving to Buffalo to see the crooner perform next Saturday.

Meanwhile, many British expats feel slighted that Canada was excluded from the United Kingdom’s recent move to ease quarantine restrictions on fully vaccinated travellers from the United States and most of Europe.

Milton, Ont.-based travel advisor Kristin Hoogendoorn says she received a rush of inquiries this spring as the expansion of Canada’s vaccination rollout seemed to unleash a wave of pent-up wanderlust along with optimism.

Read more: Why COVID-19 vaccination matters when it comes to travel medical insurance

Nevertheless, Hoogendoorn says she’s advising her clients against booking trips out of the country until 2022.

Every nation has its own convoluted set of COVID-19 testing, vaccination and quarantine requirements, and these standards may differ between your place of departure and destination, says Hoogendoorn.

For example, she says, Canadians who mixed and matched brands of COVID-19 shots don’t meet the criteria to be considered fully vaccinated in some countries.

And even if they do, further complications may await in the vaccination rules of event venues, hotels and restaurants you hope to visit.

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“This isn’t 2019 anymore. This is a whole new world,” says Hoogendoorn. “(Travellers) never had to think about plan B.? That was always the worst-case scenario. Now, the worst-case scenario seems to be the reality.”

In this emerging era of contagion-constrained travel, tourists must accept the chance their trips won’t go as planned, says Frederic Dimanche, director at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University.

The travel industry is adjusting to the most significant challenge it’s faced since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Dimanche says.

Read more: Here’s what to know about relaxed travel rules for fully vaccinated Canadians

There’s going to be a learning curve for tourism professionals and travellers alike, he says, so visitors need to be more forgiving about complications such as flight delays, hotel mix-ups, barriers to public venues and other service disruptions.

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There’s always some degree of uncertainty when it comes to venturing abroad, says Dimanche, and while voyagers can take steps to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19 restrictions, the truth is that this is what travel may look like for the foreseeable future.

“International travel was never 100 per cent easy … but now there is an additional level of complexity,” he says. “It’s going to be difficult, so we need to plan for it.”

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