Travel 'changed for the better' with COVID-19, but you may need to book your vacation soon

mother with kids and luggage looking at planes in airport, family travel (Nadezhda1906 via Getty Images)

As the Canadian government teases a possible return to non-essential, leisure travel this summer, travel enthusiasts are leaping at the chance to take a vacation.

According to search data from Expedia, when the federal government initially announced plans to loosen travel restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents, notably the removal of the hotel quarantine measure, the site saw about an 80-per-cent increase in international searches for hotels week-over-week.

This is an example of the COVID-19 pandemic solidifying the fact that travel lovers are dedicated and persistent.

“Travel will always be essential to people’s lives, regardless of how different the world and travel industry look once we emerge from this global pandemic,” Adriana Mantilla, Canadian regional manager said in a statement to Yahoo Canada.

MALAGA, SPAIN - 2021/06/15: German tourists in queue waiting to enter a tourist bus after disembarking from the cruise ship.
The German cruise ship 'Mein Shiff 2', of ship owner 'TUI cruises' arrived at Malaga Port with passengers on board after the return of international cruises to Spain. The Malaga port is the first peninsular harbor to welcome a cruise ship since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and mobility restrictions. More than 1000 passengers will enjoy trips to the downtown city through support bubbles groups allowing only excursions organized by TUI cruises for their travelers, as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease. (Photo by Jesus Merida/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MALAGA, SPAIN - 2021/06/15: The German cruise ship 'Mein Shiff 2', of ship owner 'TUI cruises' arrived at Malaga Port with passengers on board after the return of international cruises to Spain. (Photo by Jesus Merida/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

While the cruise industry was a particularly hard-hit sector of the impacted travel industry, even on-board quarantine and mass virus spread on ships seemingly can’t keep cruise lovers away.

“Cruisers are among the most loyal travellers you're going to find,” Allison Wallace, vice president of corporate communications and CSR for Flight Centre Travel Group (Americas) told Yahoo Canada. “People that cruise all the time, it tends to be their only mode of travel.”

“I expected to see...demand be pretty low, given all the negative publicity, but we've actually seen a lot of interest. Now granted, it's not until 2022, but there are some incredible deals, there's a lot of incentive to get people back on the cruise lines and people are responding.”

Stunning view of the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel situated near the bottom of Sulphur Mountain with Bow Falls below, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Stunning view of the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel situated near the bottom of Sulphur Mountain with Bow Falls below, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Where do Canadians want to travel?

Data from, based on searches between May 1 and May 31 with a booking window of 90 days or less, found that 96 per cent of summer travel searches are for domestic destinations.

Popular locations were: Niagara Falls, Ont., Banff, Alta., Tofino, B.C., St. John’s, Quebec City, Toronto, Harrison Hot Springs, B.C., and Mont-Tremblant, Que.

“Seeing Canadians so keen on exploring this vast and diverse country and supporting travel and hospitality businesses of all sizes is a wonderful thing and what is needed for the industry to stabilize and thrive once again,” Mantilla said.

Expedia is also seeing travel within Canada remain more of an interest than international travel overall.

According to Expedia search from April 10 to May 9, for the travel dates between June 20 and Sept. 30, the top Canadians destination were: Banff, Alta., Kelowna, B.C., Canmore, Alta., Jasper, Alta., and Osoyoos, B.C.

From a global perspective, international destinations of greatest interest to Canadians on Expedia most recently have been the U.S., Mexico, Italy, the U.K. and Greece.

Wallace explained that the upswing in people inquiring about trips translating into bookings has been directly connected to the vaccine rollout. Canadian confidence in travelling to the U.S. or other international destinations before the end of 2021 has also increased.

“We're seeing an increase in bookings for U.S. flights when we get into the fall,” she said. “So there does seem to be people anticipating that the U.S. border will be open September, October-ish and hoping to get good pricing before the demand picks up, which will drive prices up.”

Wallace added that Flight Centre is also seeing more people book their winter getaway to the Caribbean and Mexico for November, December and into early 2022.

Cancun beach with hotels and plam tree in foreground
Cancun beach with hotels and plam tree in foreground

How early do I need to book a vacation to get the best deal?

One of the biggest questions for travel lovers to navigate is when the best time is to book their trip, both domestically or internationally, especially when rules for entering and leaving the country continue to be in flux, with no firm date for many anticipated changes.

Wallace believes that as long as people read the fine print and understand the cancellation policy, there’s an advantage to booking travel soon.

“Right now what we're seeing, because the travel industry realizes that it's going to take a while to get that consumer confidence back, we're seeing cancellation and change policies as flexible as they've ever been,” she explained. “There's benefits certainly to booking now because again, once that demand picks up and translates into bookings...once the space starts to fill up, the price goes up.”

She added that staying away from peak time — around Christmas, New Year’s, March break — is still a great way to tap into travel deals.

Mantilla shared that has found that the booking window globally is still shorter than it this time pre-pandemic, but interest in summer travel is on the rise.

“Booking early is always a good idea to have the best chance of claiming the property you want and to avoid higher prices due to increased demand,” Mantilla said.

How travel 'changed for the better'

Ease of cancellations, refunds and considerations around cleaning and safety protocols are expected to continue to be a priority for travellers.

“I do think that travel has changed and changed for the better,” Wallace said.

“There's no question that top of mind, at least for the foreseeable future until COVID is fully under control and it becomes a distant memory, the desire to look at cleaning protocols, whether it be on airplanes or hotels, and that feeling of safety and consumer confidence is going to be the number one priority for most travellers.”

Expedia’s Travel Companions Report, which surveyed 2,000 adult respondents in Canada between April 1 and April 13, found that almost 60 per cent of respondents agree that it’s important to know everything about the COVID-19 protocols, travel procedures, testing requirements and restrictions, and have it all in one place.

Mantilla also expects that there may be an uptick in private, chauffeured tours, and more luxury accommodations that enables more private space for guests.

“We have seen an increase in travellers choosing privately owned and boutique accommodations,” she said.

Wallace said that there continues to be concerns from travellers about crowded places, while Flight Centre is seeing more people prepared to pay a bit more for more private or “upgraded” experiences.