Vancouver, March 3: On Monday, Canada began accepting a negative rapid antigen test for travellers, taken within 24 hours of crossing the border.
While the move away from the requirement for a costly and slower PCR test was welcomed, B.C.’s tourism industry said it’s not enough.
“These changes don’t provide the certainty necessary to attract families and travellers back to British Columbia,” said Walt Judas with the Tourism Industry Association of B.C.
Claire Newell with Travel Best Bets agrees the hard-hit sector won’t recover while testing requirements remain in place.
I see the hesitancy that people have when they are making bookings while testing is still required,” Newell said. “I can tell you that business travellers and families simply aren’t willing to take the risk of their trip being unnecessarily extended.”
Businesses that rely on international travellers want Canada to follow many European countries and remove all border testing for fully vaccinated travellers, before tourists decide to spend their holiday dollars elsewhere.
“The summer of 2022 is upon us, we need urgent action now. We need all measures and restrictions removed, otherwise our industry will have a very difficult time managing yet another season loss,” said Keith Henry with the Indigenous Tourism Association of B.C.
It’s not just tourists who could shy away from Canada because of testing requirements. There’s concern large conferences and conventions may avoid B.C. if attendees need to take a pre-departure test.
“We have jurisdictions around the world that are making those decisions right now about where they are going to hold those conferences,” said Bridgitte Anderson with the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.
“When they look at Canada and they look the obstacles in place, they will decide to go to other jurisdictions, which means we will lose out for 2022 and beyond,” she said.
The industry representatives are urging the federal government to remove the rapid antigen requirement for international visitors by April 1, and believe allowing Americans to cross the land border into Canada without testing would be a great start.
Fully vaccinated Canadians can already drive to the U.S. without showing a negative test. But like Canada, the United States requires all intentional air travellers to take a pre-departure rapid antigen test.
While Henry suspects the two countries will move in tandem in dropping testing for air travel, he urged officials to act soon to ensure tourism-reliant businesses can survive.
“What were asking Canada today is to be leader, we’re not asking them to wait for the U.S.,” he said.
“We know now that the pre-departure testing keeps visitors away. We have seen it.”