After two years of COVID hibernation, many Atlantic Canadians are ready for a vacation. With many countries and provinces lifting restrictions, travel is back on the table for those so inclined.
A summer of memories without crowds
Shelley and Derek MacLennan of Mt. Stewart, Prince Edward Island, decided to get an SUV tent, travel campgrounds and explore off-the-path places around the Maritimes this summer. Shelley says they plan on “taking off on most weekends. Not taking a week vacation and then it’s done.”
They will be booking stays at Bouctouche in New Brunswick and Blomidon Provincial Park in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia.
“These two places, to start, are quaint, away from larger campgrounds and, for us, less explored places,” said Shelley. “We really want to discover our Maritimes. Driving all coastal shores around P.E.I., New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. looks so very inviting — away from the cities and large crowds.”
Shelley says “we are still not feeling safe yet to fly, be in the larger cities or large crowds (concerts, venues, or amusement parks). Neither one of us has had COVID. We are trying our best to avoid it for our own health and our loved ones.”
Several glitches from the start
Bobbi and Ira Maxwell of Port Clyde, N.S. plan to spend their summer vacation travelling around Cape Breton and Newfoundland and Labrador in a leisure travel van.
“I’ve told my friends and family that the next house I buy is going to have a steering wheel in it,” said Bobbi. “Now I’ve decided just a small RV for easier driving and accessibility. I’ve been keeping my eye on a good used leisure van. If the right fit doesn’t come along in time, I’ll found a company to rent one”.
“We were avid travellers but flying (last year) really made me rethink how I want to travel moving forward.”
In October of 2021, the Maxwells flew to Tennessee and spent a week in a cabin in the Smokey Mountains with their daughter, son-in-law and grandkids who live near there.
“It was a wonderful time, but there were several glitches from the start that were mostly results of every place/facility being short-staffed, having inexperienced staff or short on goods/supplies,” Bobbi said. “We dealt with flight delays, flight cancellations, an hour in line for water, going to restaurants that were struggling to serve people in efficient ways.”
The Maxwells are not worried about their plans being cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m not too concerned with what we have planned,” said Bobbi. “We are travelling this way so we will have the basic amenities if we find places closed or understaffed along the way. We also have the flexibility to change directions if needed.”
Maxwell hopes by summer that we have reached a point of learning to live with Covid and most places have adjusted to a new schedule.
“I think we are all in a mental state of mind that we need to unplug to get recharged,” she said. “A long road trip helps me ride the next wave for a few months.”
Disney World, India, Ontario and New York
Jatender Sachdev and his family live in West Bedford, N.S. They are taking four vacations this year.
In January, the Sachdev family travelled to Disney World in Florida.
“This was our first trip to the U.S.A. after becoming Canadian citizens,” said Sachdev. “We enjoyed the ease of having Canadian passports to travel to the U.S.A. The process was so simple with vaccination records. We also had that sense of confidence for travelling.”
The Sachdev family are currently in India until March and are enjoying the time with their families, whom they have not seen in three years.
“We could not travel earlier because of COVID restrictions and wanted to be safe in this changing world of different deceases spreading everywhere,” Sachdev said.
This summer, they are planning to travel to Ontario for the first time, as well as New York, depending on COVID restrictions.
“After seeing the happiness on our kids’, families’, relatives’ and friends’ faces with these two first trips, it’s time to get a break for ourselves as well.”
– Jatender Sachdev
“Since COVID started, a lot of plans had been shattered for our travelling, but 2022 seems exciting and so promising,” said Sachdev. “We got our booster dose in January and now feel more confident while travelling.
He added he and his family have found the last two years monotonous and such a different world for everyone.
“Not having family and friends nearby in this difficult time, many of us have faced depression at one point,” he said. “We waited long for this to settle down and the travel restrictions to be eased with vaccinations and booster shots in place.
“After seeing the happiness on our kids’, families’, relatives’ and friends’ faces with these two first trips, it’s time to get a break for ourselves as well.
The upcoming Toronto and New York trips are on the family’s bucket list for 2022 and they are quite excited about these excursions.
“As much as we are excited to go to Toronto and New York this summer, we are also worried as you never know what restrictions may come, what new variants may emerge or how dangerous it could be,” he said.
Sachdev has questions that stay with him: “What can we do about it? What we should do about it? Should we book flight tickets or travel by road? What if we plan everything and something changes it?
“There are so many questions, which worry us a lot, but we decided not to stop living our lives. This thought gives us hope and happiness, which helps us to fight this worry and enjoy what we can.”
Customers ready to spread their wings
Target Tours, owned by John and Lynn Dunphy of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, are group tour operators.
When asked if they think people are afraid to plan vacations again this year, or are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, John said it depends on the destination.
“People feel comfortable booking Canada vacations for the first half of the year and booking international travel for the second half of the year,” he said. “We provide refundable deposits, less a small administration fee, until final payment to help our clients feel confident booking.”
Dunphy feels that people are not opting for another year of staycations or sticking close to home.
“I think our customers are ready to spread their wings and travel farther from home,” he said. “I think once we get the testing requirements coming back to Canada dropped, you will see more people wanting to plan their travel adventure.”
Target Tours have both an outbound business from the Maritimes and an inbound business into the Maritimes.
For their 2022 summer season, Dunphy says business is picking up for both Atlantic Canadians bookings as well as bookings from Canada and abroad, but they are nowhere near 2019 levels and figures it will be a couple of years for them to return to normal.
“As we have learned the past two years, we need to be flexible because things can change,” Dunphy added. “But we are much farther ahead now then we were this time last year with vaccinations … countries are starting to learn to live with this virus and travel is no different. We will need to learn how to travel in a COVID environment and that’s where we can help with our protocols. Vaccinations, masking in crowds and hand washing will still be key to personal safety.”
A push to resume some sort of normalcy
Melissa Willows is a travel agent and owner of Indulgence Vacations, a certified travel counsellor with the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and a destination wedding specialist with the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada.
She agrees with Dunphy in that her clients are not afraid to plan vacations.
“I think some are hesitant because of the confusion surrounding travel (restrictions, testing, etc.),” said Willows. “Most I’ve spoken with are simply ready to travel, others mention the unknown is holding them back. After a discussion they realize it’s not as bad as it sounds in the media. It’s about being prepared and being flexible.”
Willows said the trend for winter vacations is booking within a few weeks of travel for south vacations.
“Anyone looking for summer or fall are booking and adding a cancellation insurance of some type,” she said, noting that is always a recommendation with or without COVID in the mix.
Willows said inquiries have been a mix of wanting to try a new and exciting destinations — stepping out of normal vacation traditions such as all-inclusive trips, cruises and so on to trying something new such as Europe or some other bucket list travels — or choosing previous vacation destinations or ideas they are familiar with as they find it easier as they get back into the swing of travel.
“For those staying close to home, they are traveling within the Maritimes and are looking for cottages or ocean accommodations to take a break from home,” she said, noting these are “mostly independent vacations — not travelling in large groups of friends or family.”
For travel outside of Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe have been the most frequent inquiries, according to Willows.
“Travellers are also looking for small group or independent options,” she added. “They want flexible cancellation options should things change, which are available.”
Her advice is to go ahead and travel if you want to.
“You won’t regret it! It’s refreshing and a nice mental health reset,” she said.
She recommended using a travel agent to help plan a trip, especially if there are important concerns and questions about the destination, whether it’s getting there safely or getting back home.
Fogo Island Inn
Launched in 2013, Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn offers one-of-a-kind rooms and suites featuring views of the Atlantic from floor-to-ceiling windows and is built on the principles of sustainability and respect for nature and culture.
“We have seen some growth in bookings from within Atlantic Canada over the past 18 months,” said Alexandra Taylor, director of sales at the Fogo Island Inn. “Approximately 75 per cent of our bookings since March 2020 have been from across Canada, with Ontario residents making up a large portion.”
White Point Beach Resort
Located on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, the White Point Beach Resort has been welcoming people year-round for over 90 years.
“We continue to see huge support from the residents of Nova Scotia, as we have throughout the pandemic,” said Vanessa Meisner, marketing and product development manager. With the lessening of restrictions, we are now starting to see more reservations coming in from across the Atlantic provinces and Canada alike.”
Dundee Resort & Golf Club
Situated in West Bay on the Bras d’Or Lakes in Cape Breton, the Dundee Resort & Golf Club is located 30 minutes from the Canso Causeway and three hours from Halifax International Airport. The four-star resort features 60 air-conditioned main lodge rooms; 38 fully equipped housekeeping cottages; two restaurants; two bars; two large conference/wedding venues; two pools; 18-hole professional golf course; volleyball court; mini-putt; hiking trail; full-service children’s recreation program; kayaks; canoes; paddleboats; pontoon boat; and a resort spa.
“There does seem like there is a surge of bookings from Atlantic Canada,” said marketing manager Elaine Fitzgerald Muise. “A lot of family reunions and of course golf groups that did not get together last year are coming back.”