The rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19 and the possible introduction of additional travel restrictions barely a week before Christmas have created renewed uncertainty in the region’s tourism industry.
At a press conference on Dec. 16, federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that the government intended to reinstate an advisory against non-essential international travel for all Canadians, giving rise to speculation that further restrictions affecting inbound travel by noncitizens and even interprovincial travel may be put in place. Although no such restrictions have been added as of this writing, omicron concerns are still unwelcome in an industry that employs about 4,000 people in the Brome-Missisquoi region.
“We weren’t surprised to see the measures tightening, and we figured it wouldn’t be good news for us,” said Lysandre Michaud-Perreault, spokesperson for Tourisme Cantons de l’Est. “A return to [pre-pandemic] normal is what we want, but we also want people to be careful. These restrictions mean more Quebecers and Canadians will stay here for Christmas, so it’s a boost for us in some respects, but it’s not great news for the industry.”
“Every town and every business has its own situation, and Quebecers travelling within Quebec won’t necessarily cancel…but the travel agencies are very worried.”
The Brome County News attempted to contact several travel agencies in Bromont and Cowansville, and was referred to the Association des agences de voyage du Québec (AVAQ), which did not respond to interview requests by press time. In an interview with Radio-Canada, AVAQ vice president Éric Boissoneault said the association was in “crisis management mode,” adding that about 20 per cent of the province’s travel agencies had closed since the pandemic began.
He mentioned that some travelers faced a choice between going on a planned trip despite the risks, or cancelling and losing thousands of dollars. “There’s no travel ban; international travel is not recommended…so it’s up to the individual,” he said. “What will you do, what is your comfort level and what kind of restrictions are in place at your destination?”
“I’m very worried by the fact that we have to deal with dozens and dozens of [cancellation] calls, and I’m not expecting a wave of reservations in the new year,” Boissoneault said.
“This uncertainty is really difficult for revenue and hiring, and there needs to be a financial cushion in place to allow companies to retain staff and to survive,” said Michaud-Perreault. “Fortunately, everyone is trying to help support us – the province has continued funding specific programs to help the tourist industry, and the federal government has kept bringing back its own programs. The last [21 months] of the pandemic have proved to us that you have to be resilient and agile in this industry, but you also need to have government support and durable programs.”