With the busy holiday season approaching, the travel industry is bracing for a surge as Canadians are keen to get away this winter even with high inflation that has seen fuel costs, airfares and hotel prices go up.
“We have a pent-up demand of people that haven’t been away for a while,” said Richard Vanderlubbe, president of Tripcentral.ca.
“People are finding the money. They haven’t travelled for a few years.”
After two winters of COVID-19 restrictions that have been largely lifted worldwide, new travel bookings are close to pre-pandemic levels, Vanderlubbe said.
Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker in Toronto, said their sales have increased “by well over 25 per cent” compared with 2019.
But an increased demand means higher prices. And that, coupled with decades-high inflation biting into people’s incomes, could disrupt travel plans, especially for younger Canadians looking to get away for an inexpensive trip this winter, said Firestone.
“The younger group who have mortgages … are definitely not going to travel like they did previously pre-COVID times,” he told Global News.
A recent Ipsos poll done exclusively for Global News, showed 77 per cent of Canadians are comfortable travelling within Canada over the holidays, while 55 per cent said the same for international travel.
However, of those who aren’t comfortable travelling, 65 per cent said high prices for hotels and tickets, for example, are holding them back, and 61 per cent said they’re either afraid of catching COVID-19 or remain anxious about relaxed travel restrictions.
Flight prices and airport delays
Canadians planning to travel domestically this winter will be able to find reasonable airfares given the low season, said Vanderlubbe.
But for the peak weeks like Christmas and March break, they should be prepared to dig deep into their pockets no matter where they go, he warned.
“As much as there’s demand, there’s also been the fact that the supply is fixed and prices are higher than they were,” he said.
And if you haven’t already booked something for the holiday season, it will be tricky to find a good deal this late, said Jennifer Weatherhead, a travel expert in Toronto.
Canadian airlines recommend booking as early as possible as prices for tickets purchased close to departure are typically higher.
Mike Arnot, a spokesperson for Flair Airlines, said there are still “very inexpensive fares” available for the coldest months of the year to places like Arizona, Florida and Mexico, “but fares can change quickly,” he added.
There is a shift in rates, with more deals on hotels and airfares during the week than on weekends, which could come as a surprise, said Vanderlubbe.
Canadians can look for ways to save by using travel points and credit card rewards, booking packages and snagging deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, said Weatherhead.
For the peak holiday period, she said travelling on days and times that are not particularly busy or popular is a good idea. These would be late night on Christmas Eve on Dec. 24 or Christmas Day on Dec. 25, as well as Dec. 31 and early morning on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1.
The situation at Canadian airports appears to have improved after a summer of chaos with staffing shortages, long lineups, flight disruptions and lost luggage as the removal of COVID-19 restrictions surged travel demand.
With the holiday rush coming up ahead and winter weather disruptions expected, Weatherhead said Canadians should be prepared for more delays at airports.
“I would say still go early because you never know what could happen,” she advised.
WestJet will operate to 110 destinations across Canada, the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe this winter, bringing it back in line with 2019 levels in terms of destinations served, Denise Kenny, a spokesperson for the airline, said.
“In preparation for peak winter travel, we continue to responsibly manage and plan for our operations to meet the anticipated demand of our guests and to proactively mitigate any foreseeable challenges,” she told Global News in an emailed statement.
Air Transat, which offers a total of 23 destinations in the south, including a return flight to Havana, Cuba, as well as three in the U.S., is also anticipating a busy winter season ahead.
“Winter and holiday travel is one of our busiest times of the year, and this year is no exception,” Air Transat spokesperson Bernard Cote said in an email to Global News.
Air Canada, meanwhile, said it continues to see “very strong leisure and sun demand” above 2019 levels heading into winter.
To avoid any delays, Weatherhead advised travelling light and sticking with carry-on baggage.
“No matter where you’re going, carry-on kind of guarantees that you’re going to have your stuff with you at all times and it can make things a lot less stressful.”
With COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses spreading, both Firestone and Vanderlubbe strongly urge buying cancellation and interruption insurance in case you fall sick before or during your trip.
As for top winter destinations, it’s no surprise that Canadians are looking to escape the cold and travel to warm, sunny places, such as Mexico, Florida, California, Arizona and the Caribbean.
Going to Europe during the winter after the holiday season rush is also a good option for those who don’t mind the cold and want to save some money, said Weatherhead.
— with files from Aaron D’Andrea