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ROGER TAYLOR: Travel industry shows signs of life despite pandemic

Air Canada check-in signage at Vancouver's international airport in Richmond, B.C. REUTERS/Ben Nelms/File Photo
Air Canada check-in signage at Vancouver's international airport in Richmond, B.C. REUTERS/Ben Nelms/File Photo - REUTERS

Air Canada announced this week that it introduced an Infinite Canada Flight Pass, aimed at luring travellers back into the sky.

Canada’s largest airline said in the announcement that the pass was designed “to give customers the ultimate in flexibility and certainty for booking travel within Canada.”

But attractive as it may be, there are some in the travel industry who say the cost may outweigh the benefit of such a deal.

Starting at $2,000 per month (excluding taxes), the new flight passes are available for one, two or three months, and customers may choose from Standard, Flex or Latitude levels of service.

The features include unlimited flights within Canada for one fixed price throughout the duration of the pass; customers are eligible to accumulate Altitude qualifying miles; travel can be booked up to one hour before the flight, with no blackout dates or booking restrictions; and no change or cancellation fees.

The window for purchasing the pass runs through Sept. 23.

Although the Air Canada plan appears to be attractive, especially for business travellers, at first glance, Elayne Pink, co-owner of Absolute Travel Specialists Ltd. in Halifax, has her doubts about how successful the scheme will be in attracting new customers.

Elayne Pink, co-owner of Absolute Travel Specialists Ltd. in Halifax. - Contributed
Elayne Pink, co-owner of Absolute Travel Specialists Ltd. in Halifax. - Contributed

In a note on Messenger, Pink told me she thought the pass was too expensive, and many people are not yet flying out of concern about catching the COVID-19 virus.

Nevertheless, Pink indicated she is “extremely optimistic” about the future of the travel business. She predicts customers will become more comfortable about travel soon, and providing top-notch service has been one way of earning customer loyalty.

“We have been busy and, as I said, never closed. We do a lot of customer service so we have been pushing that and doing insurance claims for our clients so all good. . . . We would rather be selling,” she said.

Service is key and soon business will return with a vengeance, she predicted.

“Lots are asking about trips and planning. . . . Travel is going to be huge once (the pandemic) does clear,” Pink wrote.

“Keeping my clients near is important, I really miss them.”

In the meantime, Absolute Travel has been organizing local events, including a sold-out kitchen party weekend in Hubbards in July and corporate retreats for the fall.

Cautiously forward

On Monday, SellOffVacations, which is part of the Sunwing Vacations group, reopened its 30 retail stores across the country. The move follows several months of being closed due to the virus.

Shannon Hamilton, SellOffVacations’ Atlantic regional sales manager, said the retail stores have been quite busy with clients dropping by to say hello, with a glimmer of hope that one day they will be comfortable travelling again.

Hamilton said people are concerned about catching COVID 19 but the biggest thing holding them back from an excursion outside the “Atlantic Bubble” has been the required 14-day quarantine when they return.

“But some people can do (the quarantine) and in fact we had a group heading off to Cuba today,” she said in a phone interview from her Truro office.

Over the past month, SellOffVacations’ agents have been working the phones to get a feel for the level of demand for a travel service, according to the company. That led to the decision to reopen its retail locations, including those in Atlantic Canada: Dartmouth and Truro in Nova Scotia, St. John’s, N.L. and Moncton, N.B.

As one might expect, free upgrades are being used to lure customers to buy a travel package.

Hamiliton said it’s too early for direct flights from Halifax to warm weather destinations, but there are some very attractive deals offered by Air Canada and WestJet.

Another incentive was the decision by WestJet and Air Canada to provide free COVID-19 insurance, which has helped to ease some concerns, Hamilton said.

Air Canada announced Thursday that it is including complimentary COVID-19 emergency medical and quarantine insurance for eligible customers booking round-trip international flights made in Canada until Oct. 31.

WestJet announced last week that it would be introducing no-charge COVID-19 travel insurance coverage for guests who booked round trips to Mexico, the Caribbean and European destinations, including the United Kingdom, beginning Friday to Aug. 31, 2021, for up to 21 days. One-way travel reservations will be eligible for coverage for up to seven days.

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