THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Snowbirds still largely staying home despite new travel measures

Air Canada and WestJet work out deal so passengers can avoid quarantine in Hawaii

More snowbirds are opting to head south, but not in anywhere near the usual flocks.

Snowbird Advisor released a survey that found 31 per cent of snowbirds were still planning to head south this winter. Forty-four per cent have put all travel plans on hold and 25 per cent had not decided whether to stay home or not.

By far the biggest reason for not leaving Canada was fear of contracting COVID-19, with 87 per cent citing that as their primary concern.

The closed border with the U.S., which has prevented snowbirds from driving south, was the reason 66 per cent said they were staying home.

Just under 70 per cent of snowbirds drive south, says Snowbird Advisor, an organization that caters to winter travellers.

Nearly half — 47 per cent — cited not wanting to fly during the pandemic, and 43 per cent were worried about not being able to get medical treatment if they contract COVID-19 outside Canada.

Thirty-two per cent said not having adequate medical insurance was a factor, and 18 per cent were deterred by the required 14-day quarantine when returning to Canada.

The managing partner of Red Deer’s Canwest Travel Company, Richard Roth, said a few snowbirds who were planning to stay home are rethinking their decision.

The greater availability of COVID health insurance and the rapid COVID testing pilot program at Calgary International Airport has intrigued some.

“The COVID health insurance coverage and (the airport program) has definitely sparked interest,” said Roth.

The program allows returning Albertans to get COVID tests at the Calgary airport and at the Coutts border crossing.

If travellers test negative, they can leave quarantine as long as they stay in Alberta for the next 14 days. They must also get a second test within the next week.

More than 2,000 people have signed up for the program, which is a way to avoid healthy people having to quarantine for two weeks as a precaution after returning home.

Test results are available within two days, so the self-isolation period can be cut to as little as 48 hours for those who test negative.

Those who want to take advantage of the program must alert officials in advance. The project is slated to run 26 weeks, or until 52,000 people have signed up.

Air Canada and WestJet Airlines announced last week that they have made arrangements with Hawaiian officials to allow passengers to avoid quarantine as long as they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure.

The new measures will begin in December.

Roth said word is also getting out from returning travellers that some of the more popular resorts have responded well to the pandemic and have protocols in place.

Buffets, a resort mainstay, are closed, but the food selection is pretty much the same, he is hearing.

While there have been a few people who have changed their minds about travel, numbers are still well below the usual.

“It’s still very low,” he said, adding he doubts 31 per cent of snowbirds here are planning to leave.

“I don’t think we’re seeing rates as high as that.”

The government has announced the border to the U.S. will remain closed until at least Dec. 21.



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