Opinion: Taking Off Post COVID-19

Images of busy airports seemed to dominate the news throughout the summer months. So, while many Canadians are already making holiday travel plans, the idea of returning to airports seems both exciting as well as anxiety-inducing.

It’s clear that there has been pent up demand for travel since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are eager to see friends and family again, as well as resume traveling to places on their bucket lists.

The Alberta government recently stated that it will be investing $73 million to support both the aviation and tourism industries over the coming years, and WestJet announced that it plans to make Calgary a global hub within its network.

This is huge news for Alberta, as this funding impacts industries outside of aviation and tourism. The ability to travel increases the potential for companies across Canada to set up offices here in Alberta, as well as invite businesses from outside of Canada to do operate here as well. Working virtually certainly has its advantages, such as enabling business across borders and time zones. However, there is something to be said about being able to meet in person. Some may prefer to conduct business face-to-face as a means of building trust and a strong rapport with their clients, as well as vetting potential business partners.

But, to make this possible, the right infrastructure and staffing needs to be in put in place well in advance. As a result, this economic support from the government will be welcome to ensure that we ramp up the number of pilots and flight attendants ahead of this expected increase in travel. However, as we continue to recover post COVID-19, we have to keep a few other things in mind as we anticipate a large number of travelers coming to Alberta by plane.

First is restoring trust in Canadian travel. Toronto Pearson Airport took a major PR hit this summer as lost luggage, long lines, and a lack in airport staff severely hampered operations. But they were not the only Canadian airport impacted by these and other problems. If we want to invite more visitors to Alberta who will be arriving by plane, we need to ensure that not only our operations run smoothly, but that we also continue to cooperate with other airports outside of Alberta to ensure that a visitor’s journey is pleasant from start to finish.

The second factor to consider is ticket prices. As ticket prices climb due to inflation, increased demand, and airline mergers, many potential consumers may be second-guessing the need to travel. As a result, it is important the value of travel is properly conveyed. Consumers need to see that flying means you are able to create long-term expansion plans for your business, you can attend an important once-in-a-lifetime family event, and are able to visit a stunning Alberta landmark that will leave a lasting impression for life. Conveying value also means that consumers need to have a positive experience when flying experience from when they arrive at the airport to when they get in a taxi to the hotel. This makes customer service training of even greater importance now than ever for all levels of staff.

This leads into the third point, which is marketing Alberta to the rest of the world. Many of Alberta’s businesses are reliant on tourism, so inviting businesses and tourists is critical for Alberta’s economy. Alberta has a lot to offer in terms of nature, landmarks, and events, which is proven by the fact that Alberta was listed by National Geographic as one of the top destinations to visit in 2023.

So, while bouncing back from COVID-19 is likely not to be smooth sailing or straight forward, using the government funding in ways that will restore consumer trust, convey value, and market Alberta as a must-see place to visit will certainly help in aiding many areas of Alberta’s economy.

Jaclyn Hiebert is a young business professional with a background in International Business.

Peter Anto Johnson MSc, BSc(Hons) and John Christy Johnson BSc(Hons) and are both program officers and editors at the Antarctic Institute of Canada and third year medical students at the University of Alberta.

Austin Mardon, CM, FRSC, is currently Assistant Adjunct Professor with the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre.