By Nicole Di Tomasso
TORONTO — Last Thursday, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable and local business leaders, including representatives from the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the Global Business Travel Association, the American Express Global Business Travel and Destination Toronto, came together at a media conference to urge the federal government to remove the pre-departure rapid-antigen test to fully vaccinated travellers by April 1.
“Now, almost two years later, while entire segments of the economy have successfully re-opened, we’ve seen little to no progress for the travel-and-tourism industry,” says Nancy Tudorache, regional vice-president, Canada, Global Business Travel Association. “We are still struggling. The current travel measures in place are a barrier to travel. These measures simply don’t permit flexibility or schedule changes. They add tremendous uncertainty. They hurt corporate productivity, create financial burdens for businesses looking to send their employees into Canada or returning back into Canada. As long as these measures are maintained…business travel will not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. It’s time to remove the pre-departure test for fully vaccinated travellers.”
“The current travel restrictions are limiting our ability to bounce back. We saw some progress with the removal of the pre-departure PCR test requirement. The switch to antigen-testing has not had an impact on business-travel bookings,” says Patrick Doyle, vice-president and general manager, American Express Global Business Travel. “In 2022, there’s no scientific reason that justifies travel being singled out as the only activity requiring testing. Toronto is an international hub and world-class destination for big conferences, meetings and events. Toronto is currently being overlooked for international events and conferences by organizers and future events are being planned elsewhere. As for example, in the last two years, more than 400 big conferences and events have been cancelled in Toronto. This represents billions in losses for hotels, restaurants and other segments of the tourism industry. Without these events, business travellers aren’t coming to Canada.”
“Toronto has a highly diversified visitor economy, and that’s good thing. We are equally dependent on leisure travel and business travel. We are dependent on domestic travel and international travel. That’s a good position to be in. We can all think of destinations that are solely dependent on one segment or another. The downside of course, when you have a highly diversified visitor economy, you need all segments to be running at full speed,” says Andrew Weir, executive vice-president, Destination Toronto. “So far, while we’ve seen little glimpses of recovery in the last two years, it’s been domestic and leisure. The international side is missing and the business-travel side, in particular, has been missing. It has been an enormous challenge and it’s why cities like Toronto and urban destinations across North America have lagged behind other types of destinations in the recovery.”