Omicron COVID-19 variant sparks concerns for Canada’s travel industry

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The emergence of a new COVID-19 variant has prepared Canada’s travel industry for an influx of customer concerns and worries about whether the sector’s recent rally will be halted again.

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With little information about the new version and how the vaccines will hold up against it, the hospitality industry worries that some will cancel travel plans, even if public health advice doesn’t change around the holidays.

Travel agents and unions said on Monday they have received a slew of calls from customers curious about cancellation policies after the World Health Organization designated Omicron, which was first reported in South Africa last week as “types of concern”. and two cases were found in Ottawa. Sunday.

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On Monday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore said two possible cases were under investigation in Hamilton as well as two more in Ottawa. Quebec’s health minister also confirmed a case in the province.

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Ontario travel agent Kristin Hoogendoorn says her company, KMH Travels, has yet to see a wave of cancellations, with some customers already asking about refund policies.

“People will hear the word version and they’ll see it all over the news and they’ll go crazy,” Hoogendoorn predicted.

The Travel Industry Council of Ontario chief executive Richard Smart has also yet to see a scramble to change holiday plans, but Canada acknowledged restrictions imposed on visitors from southern African countries over the weekend could cause trouble can.

“It all comes down to consumer confidence and anything that impacts consumers’ trust in travel is going to have an impact on the travel industry,” he said.

“An announcement like the one we saw over the weekend has already hit the waters.”

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Smart and Hoogendorn say the uncertainty around O’Micron comes at an unfortunate time.

As COVID-19 cases declined and vaccination levels rose, he saw people become comfortably globe-trotting again in recent months.

Air Canada told analysts in early November that domestic holiday bookings were improving and people were visiting family and friends and even heading to “sun destinations” again.

“It was as if the stigma was gone and we were slowly starting to come back,” Hoogendoorn said.

If the new version turns out to be more toxic or deadly, Hoogendoorn believes the improvements the industry was seeing before Omicron would be further delayed.

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“This version feels like a sucker punch for our tiny little field that keeps getting worse and if people cancel, I don’t know how long we’ll be able to survive,” she said.

Smart, however, held onto the hope that Omicron might not yet thwart the travel industry’s recovery as vaccination rates remain high.

“We remain concerned but … cautiously optimistic that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

“We expect 2022 to be a very good year.”

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