After months of urging loosened COVID-19 restrictions for visitors, representatives in B.C.'s tourism sector are elated that the federal government today announced that starting October 1, visitors no longer need to be vaccinated or use the country's ArriveCan app in order to enter the country.
Passengers on planes and trains will also no longer need to wear masks as of October 1, nor will cruise passengers starting on that date have to provide pre-boarding tests that prove that they are negative for COVID-19.
The return to pre-pandemic travel rules comes at the end of B.C.'s peak summer tourism season, although they come at a good time for ski-resort operators.
"It's just a relief," said Big White Ski Resort senior vice-president Michael Ballingall. "It will mean no longer having to explain, or trying to explain to people what the rules are. It will be, 'Let me take your credit card number and I can take your deposit.'"
Rumours that these changes were coming swirled last week, prompting Ballingall to give the heads up to contacts in markets such as Australia and New Zealand, he told BIV.
Ballingall said his Okanagan resort plans to launch its ski season on November 24, and that demand for hotel reservations for the holiday season have been strong. He expects the government's end to pandemic-era restrictions will only heighten demand.
"Cruise marketing for next year really ramps up in early September," Cruise Lines International Association - North West & Canada (CLIA) spokesman Barry Penner told BIV. "So for the last few weeks Canadian cruises have been at a disadvantage because the cruise lines have to mention all the stipulations in order to take a cruise in Canada."
He is pleased that marketing can now ramp up and be on a level playing field with cruises in other parts of the world.
The cruise sector was the only one in which passengers were still required to provide negative COVID-19 tests in order to board vessels, he said, adding that he is happy that restriction is removed.
"The most challenging thing for us was that about 80 per cent of our passengers come from outside of Canada, and they had to use the ArriveCan app twice – once to enter Canada, and then again to get on cruise ships," Penner said. "We were the only sector in in Canada where our customers had to do the ArriveCan app twice."
Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia CEO Walt Judas told BIV that he was also pleased that the federal government has removed the requirement that visitors use the ArriveCan app.
"It proved to be a big barrier, as we've only seen about half the number of international visitors that we might normally see," he said. "The mask mandate I don't think was as big a barrier but it will be much more pleasant now for people to be traveling on planes and trains."
BC Hotel Association CEO Ingrid Jarrett told BIV that large conventions and business meetings depend on international visitors being willing to come to Canada. Ending COVID-19 travel restrictions make it more likely that event planners will choose to book events in B.C. because it will be easier to entice travellers to come to the events, she said.
"We can clearly now encourage and market internationally, and really look to the recovery," she said. "We know we've got a long way to go but it's very encouraging to know that we can now clearly message and encourage all of our partners around the world [to book events in B.C.]"
Air Canada's chief operating officer Craig Landry said in a statement that removing restrictions such as the mask mandate was the government "acknowledging that air travel is safe and that the measures were not justified by science."
He said he believes that removing the various requirements will "greatly facilitate travel, help to continue stabilizing the country's air transport sector and support Canada's economy."
Today's news comes on the heels of new Statistics Canada data for visitor arrivals.
In July, 621,300 overseas residents arrived in Canada, up from 63,700 such arrivals in July 2021, according to Statistics Canada. This is 56.6 per cent of the overseas residents who arrived in Canada in July 2019, before the pandemic.
The number of visitors from major markets was substantially higher in July than it was in the same month one year ago. The number of visitors from Europe increased to 371,200 in July, from 28,000 in July 2021. The number of visitors to Canada from Asia increased in July to 106,200, up from 21,500 in July 2021.
American residents took nearly 2.2 million trips to Canada in July 2022. This was more than 11 times the number of trips taken in July 2021.