With summer now passed, I find myself reflecting on the rollercoaster of events that have impacted the world since the start of the year. Everything ranging from devastating bushfires in Australia, global protests for racial justice, as well as world leaders and society as a whole attempting to navigate through a global pandemic, to name a few. Individually, we continually evaluate what we are presented with and decide, do we speak up or keep silent? Do we wear a mask to be called sheep; or potentially infect others by not wearing a mask. Do we stay indoors and socially distance; or risk being travel shamed for venturing outside our city/province. There has been controversy on both sides despite what decision we take, so what is the best approach? Throughout these last few months, I’ve repeatedly asked myself this question, and I decided to take the road that I believed was right for me while being conscientious of others.
When COVID put the world on hold, it significantly impacted the travel industry. As a travel advisor, that directly affects me, my colleagues and valued supplier partners as well. How do I answer my clients’ questions when they want to know what it will be like to travel moving forward and the specific measures to take when they are ready to travel again. I wanted to know and experience firsthand the trials and turbulences of what to anticipate when travelling through Canada during a pandemic. With that in mind, along with the strong desire to support Canadian tourism and, as we heard at Virtuoso Travel Week, make a “conscious comeback” and move forward with purpose. Therefore, armed with the mandated precautions, I choose to travel responsibly and plan our trip.
When planning a trip through a pandemic, it’s essential to mention you have to be okay with knowing things will potentially not go as planned. Before leaving, we had our flights rescheduled twice, along with multiple notifications from our hotels that certain outlets would be closed or inaccessible. I anticipated this as businesses continue to navigate through these new measures and work on ensuring their employees and future guests remain safe.
Airport and Flights
Gone are the days of family and friends saying their goodbyes to you in the terminal at the security gate; only travellers can now enter the airport. When we arrived at the Toronto Pearson Airport domestic terminal, we were required to show proof of travel, sanitize our hands, wear a face mask and get temperature checked immediately at the point of entry. Not the greeting we’re used to experiencing.
Walking through the airport was exceptionally quiet and empty, which I must admit was a welcome change to the typically present crowds. Immediately we noticed that seats were barricaded throughout the airport and at the boarding gates to encourage distancing.
A minimal number of stores and restaurants were open, so do not arrive hungry or thirsty as the water fountains were also closed off throughout the terminal. Restaurants that were open required patrons to wear a mask until seated and again when leaving. Menus were viewed by scanning a QR code affixed to the table, but paper menus remained available if you did not have a smartphone.
When we travelled, the Maple Leaf Lounges were closed in both Toronto Pearson and Vancouver International Airport; however, both are currently open and welcoming eligible customers again. Implemented biosafety measures now include disinfecting card swipers after each scan of a boarding pass, status card, or membership card. And both customers and employees are required to wear a mask in the lounge. Buffet options are not currently available; instead, you must order your food through a QR code at the table, and a server will provide you with your meal. Full bar offerings remain available but now with an assisted bar service instead of self-serve.
In early July, Air Canada and WestJet reverted to selling all seats and no longer blocking the adjacent seats. As contradicting as this news appeared at the time, I did later come to appreciate knowing if Economy Class were to reach near capacity, AC would notify passengers via email or by an announcement at the gate before boarding. Passengers could then explore other options should anyone prefer to be on a flight with more space on board. Most airlines are now offering flexible booking and cancellation options, providing us with a bit more reassurance.
Transport Canada has now mandated that all passengers two years of age and over are required to wear a face-covering onboard (note, masks with an exhalation vent or bandanas are not acceptable). Any passengers not complying with these regulations could result in denied boarding.
We preferred to fly with fewer people in our proximity, so we flew Premium Economy with AC from Toronto to Calgary. The airline provided a care package that included hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, wipes, headsets, pretzels and a bottle of water. At the time, no food or drink offerings were available apart from bottled water, but this has since changed. On our return from Vancouver to Toronto in Business Class, we were given the same care package, served alcoholic beverages in plastic cups and provided a meal in a cardboard box with plastic utensils. Not a typical presentation of a business class meal; nevertheless, we were delighted to be served food and drinks despite what packaging they came in.
Many countries permit travel within their borders but continue to emphasize its best to practice staying close to home. Currently, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador have enforced specific rules requiring out-of-province visitors to quarantine 14 days when visiting. These practices are continuously changing, so it’s advisable to always check each provincial guideline before making any out-of-province travel plans.
Regardless of what province any of us are from, one commonality I assume we all share is that each region isn’t pleased to see any vehicles with out-of-province or US license plates. Imagine the reproving glances we received when driving our rental with Washington plates through Alberta and British Columbia. As one would expect, we had to provide proof of residence on more than one occasion. So we thank you Parks Canada for keeping an eye out for us Canadians.
Hotels and Restaurants
We chose to stay at Fairmont properties, which are a part of ALL-Accor Live Limitless. They have adopted the All Safe and Well health and safety protocols, which they are diligently practicing at all the hotels we visited. Each property conducted a temperature check on the wrist, followed by the now-standard COVID-19 questions that generally consisted of:
- Have you been around anyone affected with COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
- Have you travelled outside of Canada in the previous 14 days?
- Have you had any symptoms related to COVID-19 or currently feel unwell?
All the properties have sanitization stations available throughout the hotel and require guests to wear masks in the public areas. Guests will also receive a care package in their rooms containing a mask, hand sanitizer, gloves, and wipes. At the Fairmont properties we visited, valet parking and luggage assistance were available, but this is still not customary for all hotels.
Most restaurants require reservations and have implemented appropriate measures to ensure physical distancing between patrons from different tables. Masks are necessary when moving through the restaurants, and most have a QR code affixed to the table to view the menu. At the Fairmont Banff Springs, we noticed everything was not only sanitized after use, but the tables were also left unoccupied for a timed period before anyone was seated there again.
When we travelled, some spa facilities were closed or offered limited services, which often did not include the use of sauna/steams. Gym facilities were available, but some were by appointment only. Most pools were also open, but a restricted amount of people were allowed in the pool at a time.
You may be disappointed that most properties (depending on your room category) only provide housekeeping servicing when staying for at least three days. Any room amenities needed can still be replenished by sending a text or making a call. The minibars were left empty, but a limited room service menu remained available for food and beverages.
Most properties offer contactless checkout options to reduce the amount of in-person interaction. Once guests depart, the rooms are thoroughly cleaned, sanitized, and remain vacant for 48 hours before being sold again.
Activities and Attractions
When visiting any tourist areas, expect a plethora of crowds. And in full transparency, many of the Canadian tourist sites were at times a little more congested than I anticipated. If it was too busy, we opted to experience these spots in the quieter early morning hours instead. Throughout the peak daytime hours, we took advantage of the recreational activities our hotels had to offer.
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge provides their guests with various kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, paddleboards and mountain bikes to explore the scenic area and the crystal clear waters of Lac Beauvert. In keeping with their strict cleaning protocols, all equipment used, including life-jackets, were always sanitized after each use. You should know with these additional cleaning measures in place, there are longer wait times to use these recreational amenities.
When exploring the Banff area, a visit to the top of Sulphur Mountain is a must. The views of the mountain ranges and Bow Valley are genuinely captivating. Pursuant to Alberta Health guidelines, Banff Gondola recommends booking your tickets and time slot in advance.
Families remain together not to be seated with strangers, and their protocols included the sanitization of each gondola cabin before boarding. At the summit, personnel monitor social distancing while visitors explore the vista views before them. There were no wait times, and the process went seamlessly from start to finish.
In keeping to the theme of social distancing, what better activity to participate in than golf. Golfing at the Banff Springs Golf Club and the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club is exciting and challenging. Designed by Canada’s master golf architect Stanley Thompson, these courses offer dramatic scenic backdrops, which I should warn you, may be distracting and affect your game.
Booking a tee-off time is compulsory, as is a pre-screening, which consists of a temperature check on the wrist and a brief questionnaire. Power carts are sanitized before use and are limited to 1 person per cart unless living in the same household. Distancing is required at the tees and on the greens, nor can flagsticks be touched. An installed device allows for easy removal of your ball using your putter.
When travelling through the Canadian Rockies, there is an abundance of history to learn and hidden gems to discover. We downloaded the Gypsy Guide for a nominal fee from the App Store and had a wealth of information and stop points at our fingertips. Our digital tour guide provided us with valuable background information ranging from geology to hiking areas and even wildlife we could encounter. As you drive, this entertaining commentary plays automatically based on your location, making the drives that much more enjoyable.
This informative app guided us to discover one of my new favourite spots, Emerald Lake.
If you’re looking for a big city vibe that is also within reach of glorious mountains and ocean access, Vancouver is the place to visit. We are all about the views when we travel, and this is one of many reasons we stayed at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. With their floor to ceiling windows offering uninterrupted views of Vancouver Harbour, North Shore Mountains and the iconic Stanley Park, you almost don’t want to leave your room. The sunrises are spectacular, and Canada Place lit up at night made me nostalgic for those times we sailed to Alaska. We loved the new Pac Rim Patio Pop-up located in the front plaza that offered distance in the outdoors. A perfect place to unwind and enjoy some BBQ creations, cocktails, wine or local brews.
Being situated within the downtown core, we were steps away from many wonderful outdoor retreats. We rented bikes and explored the Stanley Park Seawall, followed by a picnic lunch within the park. The ambiance was perfect. They’ve limited the amount of vehicle access to one lane to allow for adequate physical distancing for cyclists inside the park and on the Seawall.
A visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge is a mere 20 minutes away from the hotel. At this ordinarily busy tourist attraction, tickets are sold in 30 minute arrival time slots to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. There are a limited number of people allowed on the suspension bridge to cross one direction at a time. Wait times were brief with minimal people, and hand sanitizing stations were available throughout the park.
One of my favourite attractions on Vancouver Island, only 23 km outside of Victoria BC, is The Butchart Gardens. A National Historic Site that started in 1904 as a limestone quarry has since blossomed into the beautiful 55 acres of floral display we see today. It’s no surprise that Condé Nast included this as one of the World’s Most Beautiful Botanical Gardens. The fragrances and awe-inspiring blooms throughout their lush gardens are both mesmerizing and idyllic. The Butchart Gardens continue to closely monitor the number of visitors they’re allowing in at one time. Employees remain visible throughout the gardens to ensure everyone maintains their distance and follows the directional arrows and do not enter signs displayed on the pathways.
For those moments, you prefer to experience some unique activities at your hotel. The iconic Fairmont Empress does not disappoint. If there is one thing this hotel is known for, it is their Tea at the Empress. In the pre-COVID summer months, the Empress would serve more afternoon tea than most hotels in London. This high-tea experience has been a fundamental part of Victoria for more than 110 years. Another unique experience this property offers in the summer months is Lunch on the Lawn, which allows you to enjoy your picnic lunch al fresco with breathtaking views of the inner harbour. Alternatively, you can utilize one of the properties BMW bikes to discover the area and nearby trails. Or steps away from the hotel is downtown Victoria offering various local shops and restaurants to explore at your leisure.
With the shoulder season now upon us in Canada, travelling during these off-peak times has its advantages. The changing of the autumn foliage makes our country’s beautiful backdrop that much more picturesque. You’ll find fewer crowds and enticing prices if you did feel compelled to explore more of your backyard during these quieter times. And although travelling right now is not recommended, especially with cases on the rise again. I encourage everyone to consider booking future trips while suppliers are offering flexible cancellation options and favourable pricing. Planning future trips will help revitalize our local economies and keep us excited about travelling freely again when it’s safe to do so.