Right now, most travel agents are busy fielding calls about COVID-19.
“It’s all that anyone is talking about,” said Faith Sproule, owner of Niche Travel Group.
While cases of COVID-19 continue to increase both in Canada and around the world daily, many of Sproule’s clients aren’t concerned about catching the virus if they go on vacation.
“The number one biggest concern is being under quarantine,” said Sproule.
It’s something that’s already affected hundreds of Canadians. In February, over 200 Canadians were quarantined on-board the Diamond Princess in Japan, and more recently passengers on-board the Grand Princess of the coast of California were also quarantined.
As a result, it has promoted the government of Canada to advise Canadians not to take cruises, something that’s keeping travel agents like Sproule busy, rearranging vacations, and working with cruise lines to get credits for future travel.
“It’s unprecedented that they’re willing to allow that many people to move dates,” she said.
But when it comes to new bookings, those are few and far in-between.
“For the travel industry in general I think there’s a lot of people that would be unbelievably busy but their phones are not ringing, and it’s difficult,” said Sproule.
Airlines including WestJet, Air Transat and Air Canada are waiving the change fees for people purchasing a ticket between March 4 and March 31.
While Sproule says people will continue to travel, she says the COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of travel insurance, and she is encouraging anyone making plans to consider insurance that includes a cancel-for-any-reason option.
“You don’t have to worry about levels of government warnings, you don’t have to worry about statistics in this country or that country, it’s at your comfort level,” she said.
Meanwhile those in the tourism industry here in Nova Scotia are encouraging travellers to consider staying closer to home this year.
“There’s a number of incredible spots and activities and experiences that people can do here,” said Darlene Grantfinder, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS).
While TIANS is expecting international tourism numbers to drop this year, Grantfinder says the industry is resilient.
“The risk is low here so there is an opportunity for us to re-align our marketing efforts for the season,” she said.
That means instead of focusing marketing efforts on Asia, or Europe, they can invest in marketing to those closer to home.
“What we can do is make sure we’re offering the best experience here, marketing to the regional market, take advantage of our access to the United States and encouraging the Americans to come here to a nice safe place.”
Already about 80 per cent of visitors to Nova Scotia are from within Canada, and the majority of international visitors are from the United States.
President and CEO of Discover Halifax Ross Jefferson says many are monitoring the situation closely, and are waiting to see what the impacts will be for both Halifax and Nova Scotia.
So far, in Halifax the Women’s World Hockey Championship cancelled its event due to COVID-19 and it is possible that other events will follow suit.
“Everyone wisely is looking right now at the potential to mitigate against any possible spread continued spread but I think there’s a healthy balance right now in the conversations around evaluating everything that’s scheduled to be happening in this year,” said Jefferson.
Tourism in Halifax is a billion dollar industry and has been growing for the past seven years. But Jefferson says it’s important to note that events are not the only reason tourists visit here.
“More than 50 per cent of our visitors are coming to visit friends and family,” he said.
Peak tourism season is still months away, with more than half of visits to the province happening between June and September, and as the situation surrounding COVID-19 changes daily, many businesses in the industry will have to wait and see what happens.
“We do know today Nova Scotia has no reported cases, it is still a safe place and a safe destination for many to travel to,” said Jefferson.
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