Travel agency has seen a 756% increase in bookings compared to last year

After two years of living with kids in periodic virtual learning and a partner who is an essential worker, Annette Power was "in desperate need of a vacation."

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She was ready to spend March break visiting her mother in Barbados with her two children, but the trip was cancelled.

The family came down with Omicron during the winter break, delaying the vaccination appointment dates for her kids.

"I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but it was devastating for the kids in particular." Power said. "They were so excited about finally going to see family in Barbados."

This setback isn't stopping the Brampton mom from planning a summer getaway when her family's vaccines will be up to date.

Her approach is part of a trend in changing attitudes. Even though the Omicron variant is still spreading, people itching to get away appear to be more concerned about protocols than getting infected with COVID-19.

Travel agencies are seeing an uptick in bookings around March 14-18 for the spring break. With the vaccination mandates in place, fear of travelling in the time of COVID is easing.

Allison Wallace, director of media and communications for Flight Centre Canada, said the agency has seen a 756 per cent increase for March break travel this year compared to 2021.

"Phones have been ringing off the hook and it's good to know that's backed up by data," Wallace said. "Confidence has risen and, going into year three of the pandemic, people cannot go another winter without hitting the beach."

While the Flight Centre is only at 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the gains made are "huge" given the last couple of years with lockdowns and closed borders, she said.

Breaking out the March break numbers, she said 94 per cent are booking trips outside of Canada mostly to Mexico, Dominican Republic and Disneyland.

Last year it was more domestic travel, Wallace said.

Mandatory PCR testing as well as vaccinations have travellers worrying less about the virus and more about understanding a country's travel rules.

"People are calling more so about the hassle of the rules versus actually getting sick," she said.

Other travel agencies in Toronto including Mandala Travel have seen an 80 to 90 per cent increase in bookings for March break since the same time last year with an interest in warmer climates, such as the Caribbean.

"People are less scared this year and call to fully understand the rules," said travel agent Daisy Maciel, adding that Canada is one of the few countries to require a PCR test upon arrival, causing confusion around getting PCR tests in foreign countries.

New Wave Travel agent, Lucy Catalanotto, said while bookings are up, they are no where close to pre-pandemic levels.

"Pre-pandemic we'd be sold out by now," she said. "Families typically start booking for March break in November."

She said the main concern she's noticed among travellers is having to quarantine if they contract the virus while on holiday.

The testing requirements for travellers to Canada are top of mind for the industry, too.

Canadian airlines have been calling on all levels of government to ease restrictions to allow the travel industry to bounce back after drastic economic losses.

On Feb. 7, WestJet extended scheduled reductions by 20 per cent through to March 31, due to ongoing uncertainty and barriers facing travel.

The flight reductions for WestJet come at a crucial time for the airline, limiting travel options for those wishing to go away for March break.

"Travel advisories, restrictions and testing requirements were meant to be temporary, yet our industry has now reached an impasse that is severely impacting the recovery of our airline and sector," said Harry Taylor, interim president & CEO of the WestJet Group in a press release.

Air Canada spokesperson, Peter Fitzpatrick, said Air Canada has repeatedly called for appropriate, science-based health and safety measures to facilitate travel while still protecting travellers and local communities.

"There is no doubt onerous and ineffective testing, quarantine or other restrictions can be a disincentive to travel," Fitzpatrick said.

The sentiment is shared by Air Transat.

"We would like to see the restrictive measures put in place by the federal government lifted so that our properly vaccinated clients can travel safely," said spokesperson Marie-Christine Pouliot. "We are convinced that these measures represent a significant barrier to demand."

For Toronto mom Diel Gerber, whose three-year-old is not able to get vaccinated, travelling internationally would mean her child would not be able to attend daycare for two weeks upon returning to Canada.

With both parents working, this isn't a viable option.

"All the restrictions for travel are really affecting families with kids," she said. The cost of PCR tests for a family of four costs a family hundreds of dollars in addition to regular expenses.

"We are not afraid of getting COVID-19. We got the boosters," Gerber said.

"The restrictions make it impossible for families to travel because of isolation for those under five and high cost of testing."

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