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During this year’s virtual Rendez-vous Canada event, “The question on everyone’s mind is, ‘When is the border going to reopen?’” says Marsha Walden, president and CEO of Destination Canada, “and no one knows for sure. That decision, along with others, will depend on a host of factors including the conditions the country sets on the returning residents. We’ve made enormous progress in Canada, and we have among the highest levels of vaccination willingness in the world. Health officials have announced that once 75 percent of eligible Canadians have been treated with one shot, and 20 percent are fully vaccinated, we’ll start to gradually see COVID-19 restrictions ease countrywide. And many parts of the country are already on track to achieve this milestone by July 1. Come fall, if 75 percent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated—Destination Canada’s recent model, which considers current vaccination supply and rollout rates, along with other data—forecasts that the fall is likely the earliest we will see borders start to reopen.

“We are looking at scenarios where borders reopening can be staggered, first reopening to countries like the U.S. or the U.K., or those in the EU,” adds Walden.

“Another area we are looking at very closely is vaccination passports, and Canada is working with international partners to develop a standardized vaccine certification,” says Walden. “Decisions around this, as well as the rollout, and proof of vaccination will impact our sector’s recovery tremendously and the overall experience that travelers and our guests will have.”

For the past year, Beth Potter, president and CEO of Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), has been advocating for the industry with the provincial and federal governments, as well as working closely with the World Travel and Tourism Council participating as a member of their COVID-19 task force.

“As we emerge from this pandemic and return to travel, it will be important that Canada’s policies and processes around travel align with global initiatives to ensure a seamless experience for all travelers,” says Potter.

“Marsha touched on vaccination rates and the importance of milestones to be reached in order to reopen the tourism economy,” adds Potter. “These milestones are crucial for the industry to understand. We need time to plan and forecast, time to market, book, retrain, and rehire. We know that proof of vaccination will need to become common part of travel documentation moving forward. And our efforts at TIAC are to lead the conversations on ensuring a national approach. We are working to make sure there’s one seamless system across Canada.”

She adds that, “Travel can not be limited to only those who have been vaccinated, so testing and contact tracing will have to be part of the system. TIAC is also looking to lead the way in changing the current narrative on behalf of the sector. We need public and consumer confidence to understand that once restrictions are lifted, our businesses are prepared to offer experiences following all the necessary health and hygiene protocols.”

One of those experiences that makes Canada stand out, are indigenous experiences.

Carving a totem pole in British Columbia. Travelers can explore a variety of indigenous experiences in Canada. (Photo courtesy of Destination Canada.)

“Pre-COVID, indigenous tourism was growing, fueled by international interest,” says Keith Henry, president & CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.The world was seeking new experiences throughout Canada, and indigenous tourism was one of the most effective experiences to add to any destination experience. We have work to rebuild these trade partnerships, travel agencies, and to help our businesses return to feasible stability.

“ITAC will be launching a new 365 campaign in partnership with Destination Canada,” adds Henry. “We’re building on a new marketing brand, and the implementation of the concept, ‘Original, Original’—genuine indigenous experiences. This will be an important opportunity for partners to support indigenous tourism and a new platform to rebuild from. The fact is that COVID-19 has reshaped our industry, I believe there’s renewed importance for our collective partnerships to work together as we rebuild.”

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