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Tourism During COVID-19: December 2020 & January 2021


Resources // Report // Tourism During COVID-19: December 2020 & January 2021

Key Takeaways Snapshot

Health Impact

COVID-19 remains a serious global health threat and the situation is evolving daily. Given the number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is considered high. As such, Canada’s borders will remain closed until at least January 21, 2021 with new protocols coming into effect that will mandate all air passengers entering the country to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. However, the measure will not replace the federal government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period, and testing procedures are yet to be explained. Further testing protocols at land points of entry are also being explored in collaboration with provincial health authorities, but issues of complexity have prevented testing policy implementation thus far.

Economic Impact

The pandemic has brought global travel to a halt, grounded many flights, and left seafarers stranded onboard ships for months—leading to disrupted supply chains and fragile economies. Coordinated global action is urgently needed to safely reopen borders and restore the movement of essential goods and workers across the land, air, and sea borders. For global travel and trade to return to prepandemic levels safely, travelers, governments, and industries will need a harmonized, standardsbased model for health status verification.

Focus Case Study 1:

The Alberta International Border Testing Pilot Program

Some destinations in Canada are testing the feasibility of a testing upon arrival program to shorten the amount of time travellers need to quarantine once they arrive in the destination. The pilot program being tested in Alberta including the Calgary airport is demonstrating success in the possibility of reducing the amount of time that travellers from outside Canada would need to quarantine. Other provinces are eyeing Alberta’s program to test in their own airports.

Focus Case Study 2:

WestJet-YVR COVID-19 Testing Study

Destinations are tracking research that is being conducted by the University of British Columbia, Providence Health Care, WestJet and the Vancouver Airport Authority to investigate a method of ora rinse rapid-testing for COVID-19 to inform the safest and most effective way of testing departing passengers prior to security screening at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). This approach is yet another way that some destinations are re-thinking travel during COVID-19.

Focus Case Study 3:

Toronto’s Pearson International COVID-19 Testing Project

A recent academic study conducted by McMaster HealthLabs (MHL) in collaboration with Air Canada, the Canadian government and Toronto’s Pearson International Airport focussed on testing arriving international travellers with a gold standard PCR test that issues results within 48 hours. Preliminary results of the study demonstrate 70% of infected passengers would be detected on arrival.

Canadian Resident Sentiment Toward Tourism

With rising COVID-19 cases, Canadians are feeling less safe to travel close to home and within their own provinces compared to November. With the distribution of the vaccine now underway, tourism recovery is expected to commence along with lifted public health measures and a broader economic rebound. The experience of the global pandemic will reshape both domestic and international travel patterns and preferences, with the expectation that traveller confidence will remain subdued for at least the next two years. Tourism recovery at the provincial level will depend on how well COVID-19 is contained locally and how reliant each province is on international visitors.

Traveller Behaviours

Extended scenarios for 2021–2024 developed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) point to a rebound in international tourism by the second half of 2021, however a return to 2019 levels in terms of international arrivals could take two to four years with traveller confidence remaining at a record all time low due to slow virus containment and travel restrictions. Domestic demand is expected to recover faster than international demand, and thus remains the focus for recovery efforts.


International air travel remains more than 90% down compared to 2019 levels as a result of travel restrictions, leading to huge job losses across the global economy. The aviation industry is calling for consultation with governments and a coordinated COVID-19 testing approach. The utilization of testing is seen as a major element of the path forward to save the aviation industry and protect public health.

Accommodation & Events

The pursuit of risk-based and data-driven approaches to COVID-19 testing is key to obviate the need for quarantines and travel bans that are decimating the accommodation and events industry locally, and worldwide. Establishing common criteria and thresholds for determining epidemiological risk, implementing common protocols to best mitigate risk, and implementing comprehensive, cost effective pre-departure testing procedures and contract tracing protocols are widely seen by industry members as viable alternatives to automated quarantines.


As the world continues to address the challenges regarding COVID-19, the top priority for the entire cruise community, including cruise lines, travel agents, ports, destinations and suppliers, continues to be the health and safety of passengers, crew and the communities they visit with a focus on benefiting from the guidance of national authorities in regions where cruising has started to resume–particularly Europe and parts of the South Pacific.

Major Tour Operators

Innovative travel safety initiatives are emerging, giving rise to a new shape in the tourism sector. However, many countries around the world are still extremely cautious about easing travel restrictions– especially in light of the new stain of COVID-19. Staying up to date with the latest information, and supporting advocacy campaigns will be paramount heading into 2021.

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