Central Alberta snowbirds are abandoning their annual migration plans in droves.
“I would say 90 per cent of those who generally travel south that we know of aren’t travelling this year — it’s very high,” said Red Deer travel agent Richard Roth.
“It’s only the diehards who are going.”
The pandemic has complicated travel plans in many ways, insurance being a key concern for snowbirds, many of whom are older.
“The problems have to do with getting coverage medically that will cover COVID-related conditions,” he said.
Some insurance companies are now stepping up with new policies geared to provide coverage for those planning long-term getaways.
It is estimated about 300,000 to 375,000 Canadians take off during winter months.
Roth said the closed border is a big deterrent to some travellers, who must now fly to their destination.
“A lot of snowbirds like to drive down, because then they have their car with them. But they can’t do that because the border is closed.”
The federal government announced on Sept. 18 that the border between Canada and the U.S. will remain closed for non-essential travel at least until Oct. 21.
Canadians have been warned that the restrictions — which have been extended six times already — could be in place until the end of the year.
On Thursday, the government posted an updated message online advising Canadians against all international non-essential travel, including cruise ships.
Many snowbirds also like to return home for Christmas. But health restrictions as they stand now would require travellers to quarantine for 14 days, which would put an obvious damper on the holiday season.
Roth said some snowbirds who were mulling going anyway are finding out that their stay in the U.S. sunbelt or other international hot spots may not be like years past.
One couple he has worked with normally goes to Mexico for two months, but changed their minds after getting an update on their winter getaway.
“They just got reports back that things are closed and there are just so many restrictions that they just don’t feel A, comfortable, and B, sort of free, that they could just live their life without a bunch of technicalities.”
Some are even considering selling their winter properties, not confident the pandemic will be a temporary setback.
There are signs that snowbirds reluctant now may change their minds, said Roth, managing partner at Red Deer Canwest Travel Company.
“We keep getting calls about where can we get a rapid COVID test. So we may see a change in this.”
For those who have given up on their travel plans, it will be a long winter for many, he predicts.
“It’s incredibly hard. People are now just trying to figure out what to do, so they’re stocking up on books and games and whatnot to try and make it through winter in Canada,” he said, adding that some have not had to brave our winters for 20 years or more.
Organizations representing snowbirds recommend travellers do their research, because restrictions can vary from U.S. state to state and between countries.
The most popular sunbelt destinations for Canadians — Arizona, California and Florida — do not require international travellers to quarantine.