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Canada’s tourism industry says it’s time to travel. Do you believe it?

If you haven’t flown recently, you’re not alone. Domestic air travel in Canada is down 88 per cent, and international travel has declined even more — which isn’t surprising in the midst of a global pandemic.

The Alberta government recently changed its messaging around travel and removed the section which previously read “Non-essential travel won’t be lifted until Stage 3 of the relaunch strategy,” from the Alberta government’s website .

On Oct. 22, it was announced that Alberta will host a pilot project that reduces the quarantine requirements for international travellers entering Canada through the YYC Calgary International Airport and Coutts land border crossing.

This news comes as a relief to not only sunseekers keen to escape a winter that arrived all too early but to an industry that’s close to its breaking point. Canada’s travel, tourism and hospitality sector employs 1.8 million people and contributes $102 billion to the economy. And in Alberta, one in 10 people are part of the tourism industry.

“Of our 730 industry partners, 70 per cent have re-opened,” says Carson Ackroyd, vice-president of sales with Tourism Calgary.

“Our focus is on leading the recovery, getting comfortable and feeling safe. Leisure travel will continue to be a driver this winter, and we know it can be done safely. The biggest challenge is breaking the stigma of going out. Once you go to your first flight or socially distanced meeting, you’ll feel comfortable doing it again.”

So when will air travel pick up? Soon, Air Canada hopes, as it recently added the long-awaited Airbus A220 to its fleet, which was originally designed in Canada by Bombardier. On the ground, it reopened Maple Leaf Lounges in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto .

The airline has also launched CleanCare+, an enhanced preventative measures program to ensure not only a safe onboard experience but that passenger confidence remains high.

All meals are served in a boxed format and complimentary care kits comprised of hand sanitizer, a face mask, antiseptic cleansing wipes and bottled water are given to all passengers.

Airlines also employ invisible enhanced safety protocols including electrostatic sprayers and HEPA filters, which capture and remove almost every size of particle — from dust to viruses and bacteria.

Airports, too, have stepped up their safety standards. In recognition of the #FlyHealthyYYC program, YYC Calgary International Airport has received the Airports Council International (AIC) Airport Health Accreditation. YYC Calgary International Airport is one of eight Canadian airports to receive this accreditation.

Pre-flight safeguards include mandatory temperature screening and contactless kiosk solutions.

“Whoever is getting onboard an aircraft, very likely doesn’t have COVID-19. That’s a big reason we’re not seeing airline super spreader events. It’s safe to travel, safe to sit in a lounge and safe to be on an Air Canada flight,” avows Andrew Yiu, vice-president, product, at Air Canada.

In addition to the pilot project in Alberta, The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, a group of industry leaders, is lobbying the federal and provincial governments to implement changes to responsibly reboot the travel industry.

In addition to Alberta’s 26-week pilot project, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Air Canada and McMaster HealthLabs are conducting a voluntary COVID-19 study of international travellers arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport. The study’s findings may be useful to the Government of Canada in making decisions on controlling the spread of COVID-19 and in exploring policy options.

“We have to start rebuilding confidence for travel now — not wait for four or five months. This virus is going to be around for a while, and getting past fear-based decisions has to happen now,” says Royce Chwin, president and CEO, Tourism Vancouver.

Vancouver joins Victoria and Vancouver Island in receiving the ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The stamp allows travellers to recognize governments and companies around the world which have adopted global health and hygiene standards.

The message Canada’s travel industry is trying to send is clear.

“We’re open for business,” said Chwin.

Jody Robbins is a Calgary-based lifestyle writer. Follow her adventures on her blog: Travels with Baggage .

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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