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Travelling this winter? Expect demand to go ‘through the roof,’ industry warns

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Travel agents predict a busy season ahead, saying Canadians are ready to visit top sun destinations after two winters of COVID-19 restrictions kept many at home.

While airfares have so far remained steady, experts predict a price spike for fall and winter flights as demand returns.

They said that demand could spike further if remaining COVID-19 restrictions such as vaccine mandates are lifted, encouraging travellers who were previously hesitant to fly due to the restrictions.

“I think the combination of all those things will drive travel through the roof, higher than pre-pandemic,” said Martin Firestone, president of insurance provider Travel Secure Inc.

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Firestone said the potential influx of travellers could cause repeated delays and disruptions.

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Flight disruptions and wider airport chaos this summer were often chalked up to staffing shortages everywhere from border guards to flight attendants.

This has led to some airlines boosting efforts to attract and retain staff to meet the anticipated demand.

As traveller demand begins to approach pre-pandemic levels, however, the question is whether airline staffing can match.

“The problem is that a lot of people didn’t come back into the industry,” said Firestone. “You just don’t push a button and all of a sudden you find pilots.”

Other experts agree it’s harder to plan for a surge in passengers since the pandemic began. Sandra Webber, director of communications, content strategy and social media at Travel Brands, said that’s because there’s a higher proportion of last-minute travel than the industry is used to.

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Without the usual six-month lead time, she said, it is more challenging to bring on additional staff when needed.

“That has affected a little bit of everything because it’s more of a challenge to determine when travellers are booking their trip for each season,” said Webber.

Flight and hotel prices are determined based on availability and as winter trips to sun destinations fill, it is recommended that travellers hoping to get a good deal on flights book far in advance to avoid price surges.

Despite this, Canadians seem willing to pay for the high price tag as booking trends reveal people are spending more on their trips, said Webber.

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