British Columbia’s tourism industry is hailing hints from the federal government that an announcement on eased COVID-19 border restrictions are coming next week as “good news.”
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Friday that Ottawa was “actively reviewing” border measures, and that the worst of the Omicron-driven fifth wave of the pandemic was “behind us.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ruled out the elimination of a vaccine requirement for international travel, leaving speculation the changes will involve current molecular testing requirements for entry to Canada.
Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., said dropping the test requirements would be a massive boost to the struggling sector.
“(It’s) something our industry has been asking for for a long, long time,” Judas said.
“If we have people who are double vaccinated and have the booster, that should be sufficient.”
Currently, most travellers entering Canada must have proof of a negative result taken within 72 hours of their flight or land entry, or proof of having tested positive for COVID within the last 180 days.
Judas said the high cost of molecular tests has been a disincentive for international tourists, and that the testing rules have been challenging to explain to visitors.
While it remains unclear what exactly the federal government will change next week, and when those changes will take effect, Judas said he was hopeful they could be in place for Family Day/President’s Day long weekend on Feb. 21, a key moneymaker for the tourism sector.
Loosened restrictions will also be critical for the cruise industry, which is preparing to set sail for the first time in two years this April.
But even if Ottawa is looking at a longer timeline for the changes to be implemented, getting clarity sooner than later is good news.
“It really allows us to be very active on the marketing front. Start targeting those international destinations where we know we have traditionally welcomed many guests from,” he said.
“It also provides certainty in the form of reservations that are already on the books.”
A little extra lead time could also help tourism operators with their biggest challenge should the books fill up: staffing.
“We don’t have enough people to fill all of the positions that are currently open in the province,” Judas said.
— with files from Aaron McArthur