At last! Business and pleasure travelers are finally able to hit the roads, rails, airways, and waterways after long months of pandemic restrictions. We asked two leading tourism industry experts from the United States and Canada to discuss the new realities of cross-border travel and help us identify future action items for the Future Borders Coalition. Our guest commentators are Tori Emerson Barnes, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs and Policy at the U.S. Travel Association (U.S. Travel), and Beth Potter, President & CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC).
FBC: As pandemic-related health testing regulations are relaxed, what else should we be focusing on at the border? How can we facilitate better collaboration between the U.S. & Canada?
While public attention has been focused on pandemic-related issues for the past few years, Beth Potter from TIAC contends that it is time to shift the agenda back to global harmonization and the value of tourism for competitiveness: “We’re pleased that the Government of Canada has most recently eliminated the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for domestic travel on planes and trains, as well as outbound international travel, and we continue to push for removal of all pandemic-related border restrictions,” she says. “But at the same time, it is essential that we lead conversations globally to support the seamless travel experience.” Potter urges both governments to reduce the number of checkpoints in a single trip by leveraging on proven technologies: “We must continue to push for improving the travel experience; the creation of one that eliminates the need for travellers to show documents and identification at multiple times to a variety of stakeholders at different checkpoints in a single trip.”
Tori Barnes is similarly focused on the synergies of harmonization and the modernization of border processes through the use of proven technologies. For example, she suggests that “preclearance at air and seaports can be modernized to fully integrate biometric identification on both sides of the border.” At land border crossings, Barnes envisions a future where screening technology is effectively integrated and “land border crossings feel more like a toll booth to the secured traveler or commercial operator.”
FBC: How has the pandemic affected the North American tourist market?
Potter notes that although the Canadian tourism sector seems on the road to recovery, international arrivals are still down 86% compared to 2019 levels. There is still a lot of work ahead in order to return this once $105 billion industry to the economic competitive powerhouse that it was in pre pandemic. For this reason, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) continues to work closely with Destination Canada to attract international visitors and return to the once $105 billion industry of pre-pandemic times. One of their focal collaborative efforts is Rendezvous Canada, Canada’s premier tourism industry marketplace, which took place in Toronto from May 24 to 27, 2022.
On the U.S. side, the lessons learned from pandemic-related travel uncertainty have not been lost. Barnes cites a U.S. Travel survey which found that travelers from Europe and Asia identified the uncertainty of potentially having to cancel a trip due to the U.S. pre-departure testing requirement that was in place until June 12. Even though the pre-departure testing requirement has been rolled back, a key takeaway is the importance of certainty and predictability on traveller decision making. A new analysis found that removing pre-departure testing could bring an additional 5.4 million visitors to the U.S. and an additional $9 billion in travel spending through the remainder of 2022.
FBC: What has been the impact of workforce shortages for tourism in Canada and the U.S.?
Labour shortages were a problem for the tourism industry even before the pandemic aggravated the situation. Because of the complex factors contributing to the labour shortfalls, it could take a decade before the industry reaches pre-pandemic employment levels. In Canada, TIAC is working with government and industry stakeholders to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with short term gaps as well as options for the longer-term workforce expansion. As Potter notes, “We cannot recover without our people.”
The U.S. shares these workforce woes, reporting 1.7 million job openings in the leisure and hospitality (L&H) sector. The tourism sector is looking to a combination of domestic incentives as well as temporary foreign workers to help fill the gaps. Although the U.S. released an additional H-2B nonagricultural worker visas for the second half of 2022, U.S. Travel argues that it is still not enough. The association is urging the Biden administration to exercise the full authority given by Congress and release all authorized H-2B visas in order to support an even recovery across all sectors of travel. Says Barnes: “Not having workers is just as harmful as not having customers.”
FBC: What message do you have for travelers as we head into the 2022 summer vacation season?
While it is going to continue to be important to stay aware of local regulations and the latest health and safety guidance as we make plans for Summer 2022, Barnes offers an enthusiastic welcome: “Destinations across the U.S. are ready to welcome visitors from around the world!”
Potter shares a similarly optimistic message: “Travel Now – for Work, Life and Play!!” She notes that the travel industry has an important role to help visitors to be confident in their travel decisions, “knowing that our businesses are prepared to offer experiences that not only comply with health and safety guidelines, but also offer a means to travel for business, pleasure, visits and enjoyment!”