Saluting our beleaguered travel agents on National Travel Advisors Day

Travel the World

The past year plus has been a hard one for the world’s travel agents so it seems fitting to tip our caps to them on this year’s National Travel Advisor Day.

In 2019, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) announced that May 1 would be designated National Travel Advisor Day, sharing the date with not just May Day, but Beer Pong Day, Join Hands Day,  National Bombshells’ Day, National Chocolate Parfait Day, National Fitness Day, National Loyalty Day, National Mother Goose Day, National Scrapbook Day, Silver Star Service Banner Day  and a day honouring another underappreciated group, School Principals’ Day.

It’s easy enough to get lost in all of the other self-designated holidays, but the problem this year is that some sources are saying that the day to recognize advisors is May 6 and ASTA itself is stating it’s May 5. No matter what date you choose, these hard-working advisors have been doing their best to help the travelling public navigate the confusing web of rules and regulations that have been spawned by the pandemic.

Worse for them, they’ve been particularly hard hit by the travel slowdown as virtually no one has been going anywhere for the past year, but there is hope on the horizon as more people get vaccinated.

When the first lockdowns struck last year, many travellers who had booked their own trips discovered how difficult it was to get any kind of refunds. Those who had worked with advisors were more successful because they had somebody on their side that understood the system. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that travel advisors still have value in an era of online self-service and it will be worth your time to seek out their expertise when you start travelling again after its over.

Canadian travellers want vaccination passports, but they’ll have to wait

Vaccine passport

While  the European Union’s parliament debates its vaccine passport Wednesday, Canadian travellers are clamouring for similar documentation, but it seems that they’ll have to wait until more of their fellow citizens are vaccinated.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu told CBC News Tuesday that Ottawa is more focused on defeating the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic than prioritizing recreational travel.

“Our focus is making sure Canadians are safe and healthy, and our response will continue to be based on science and evidence,” said a statement from Hajdu’s office.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Tuesday that Canadians can expect some sort of vaccination certification for future travel, but gave no other details.

“As was the case pre-pandemic, certificates of vaccination are a part of international travel to certain regions and are naturally to be expected when it comes to this pandemic and the coronavirus. How we actually roll that out in alignment with partners and allies around the world, it’s something that we’re working on right now,” said Trudeau.

Canada’s partners and allies are not necessarily doing the ame thing, which is slowing down any adoption of a universal standard for vaccine documentation. Global airline industry body IATA is testing a digital travel pass while the EU has its own system. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom announced Wednesday that it will use its National Health Service phone app as its COVID-19 ‘vaccine passport‘ certificate.

The Montreal Economic Institute is calling for Canada to adopt a non-mandatory, decentralized vaccine passport.

“It’s even more important to have a vaccine passport given that it will likely be impossible for Canadians to travel outside the country without one,” said economist Miguel Ouellette, the Director of Operations and Economist at the MEI.

A new Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum found widespread support around the world for vaccine passports. On average, about three in four adults across 28 countries agree that COVID-19 vaccine passports should be required for travellers to enter their country and that they would be effective in making travel and large events safe.

About two in three say the documents should be required to access large public venues. On the other hand, only about half agree they should be required for shops, restaurants, and offices.

The survey questioned 21,000 adults between March 26 and April 9, 2021.

Canadian travellers skip hotel quarantine by crossing land border by taxi, but will the loophole last?

Taxi

When Canada introduced mandatory hotel stays for arriving air passengers in February,  but not for land travellers, it quickly became obvious that people would exploit that loophole.

And that’s exactly what’s happening as media reports indicate that the taxi business has been booming at the United States-Canada border for the past several weeks. Much of it is fueled by returning snowbirds, but it’s also being exploited by other international travellers as well.

“They call from six in the morning to 12 at night,” John Arnet, general manager of 716 Limousine in Buffalo, N.Y. told Reuters. “We’ve had so many requests for border crossings that we’re turning them down.”

Even though the Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential traffic for 14 months, returning Canadians have the right enter the country, but are required to isolate at home for 14 days when they do so.

With COVID numbers continuing to surge across Canada, it’s unknown whether the border taxi business will continue to boom as premiers are agitating to close the loophole.

In a joint letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week the premiers of Ontario and Quebec said that Canada should “roll out further protective actions at the Canada-U.S. land border,” which could potentially mean tougher quarantine measures for non-essential travellers.

New Brunswick has already enacted a seven-day hotel quarantine for any non-essential travellers entering the province, whether it be by land, air or sea.

Florida’s Kennedy Space Center is open and ready to inspire the next generation of astronauts

Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

Depending on your age, a visit to Kennedy Space Center in Florida can either ignite new dreams of being an astronaut or revive old ones that never really went away.

Those of us old enough to remember the grainy TV footage of the first astronauts walking on the moon, can relive those memories when we tour the popular Florida attraction, but for younger guests, a visit to KSC can be a lot more profound. For many, it will inspire a lifelong interest in space and science and some of them may even be lucky enough to become astronauts themselves.

“We want young students to come to the Kennedy Space Center and try the Shuttle Launch Experience, visit our Mars galleries and get a feel for what we’re doing, because I want them excited, just like I got excited as a young boy to go into space myself,” said Don Thomas, a former astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle Missions in the 1990s. 

“We always tell the students, ‘we need you,’ said Thomas during an online appearance at this year’s virtual version of Florida Huddle, the state’s official travel trade show that showcases the Sunshine State to international and domestic tour operators, wholesalers and media.

“We’re building these new rockets and designing new spacesuits at NASA and habitats for Mars, but we’re going to need our next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts ready. That’s why it’s so important to get our young students excited.”

Located just an hour from Orlando, KSC is one of the state’s premier family tourist attractions and while it was closed for a brief period at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it reopened in May 2020 with strict health protocols in place and some modifications to its operations. For example, the bus tours and Apollo/Saturn V Center remain closed, but there are many other elements that remain open such as the popular Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit that lets people get up close to the famous spacecraft.

“You can almost reach out and touch it,” said Thomas. “You can get that close so that you really get a good view of how huge the Space Shuttle. Atlantis flew on 33 missions so you can see the discolouration from the burning as it’s coming in through the atmosphere. It’s quite emotional, even moving, to see it in person.”

Astronaut Don Thomas
Former astronaut Don Thomas hopes a visit to Kennedy Space Center will inspire kids to want to become astronauts in the same way the space race inspired him when he was young.

Visitors can also participate in a simulated Space Shuttle Launch which Thomas says is pretty close to the real thing, minus one important element. 

“You can get a pretty good feel for what a launch is like on the Shuttle Launch Experience. They’ll strap you in your seat; it’ll rock and roll; you’ll hear the roar of the engines. I tell people the only difference between the Shuttle Launch Experience and the real mission — that is that fear factor.” 

There are several other simulators scattered throughout the centre that visitors can experience along with attractions like the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Heroes and Legends hall which explore the early days of space exploration, but Thomas thinks the NASA Now + Next zone is the most exciting. This is where visitors can immerse themselves in the science of the International Space Station and what NASA is planning for the future, including its imminent return to the moon and eventual journeys to Mars. The centre-piece of this exhibit is a full-scale model of the Orion capsule which will take astronauts to those distant destinations. 

Thomas spoke about the timeline of the Artemis missions to the moon and thinks that if all goes according to plan, Artemis 3 will land two astronauts on the south pole of the moon in 2024. 

“Fifty years ago, we landed 12 Americans on the moon. They were all men and this mission, just four years away, we’re going to land the first woman on the moon, and also, the next man,” said Thomas. “Just four years away from the first woman on the moon. I think that’s incredibly exciting. I know I’m going to be down at the Kennedy Space Center to watch that launch as they leave for the moon.”

For more information about Kennedy Space Center, visit https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com

During this travel pause, let’s rethink how we interact with animals from now on, says celebrated scientist Jane Goodall

A lot of us are feeling helpless in the middle of the worst global pandemic to hit civilization in more than a century, but famed scientist and activist Dr. Jane Goodall thinks we shouldn’t be frustrated by it, but to instead use this time to reflect on the decisions we make going forward, especially concerning our interactions with wildlife as travellers.

“Never forget that every single day you live, you make an impact on this planet and you have a choice as to what kind of impact you make,” Goodall reminded us last week during an online appearance hosted by G Adventures.

It was the second of the company’s Retravel Live events aimed at discussing topics of concern to travellers and the theme of the latest seminar was tourism and animal welfare. From an office in her childhood home, the 86-year-old Goodall shared her thoughts with an online audience of about 1,000 people as she answered questions posed to her by G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip.

“I think it’s very fortunate that there is this pause,” said Goodall during the video call. “We need to do things differently. As the world got wealthier and more and more people began to travel in so many instances they were destroying, by sheer numbers, the very places that they wanted to go and see because they were wild.”

Find the right balance of visitors for each destination

When Poon Tip asked her what we should do differently with regards to our interactions with wildlife as tourists, she suggested that there be more mechanisms to limit the number of people going to wild places, but didn’t want those experiences to become something that only the elite could afford.

“You don’t want to ban people of lower income brackets from going out and seeing a wild animal but on the other hand those people then go on package tours, which means there’s many of them,” she said. “I know from being on the ground the effect that it can have when you get too many people and if you only have a few then it’s much more expensive, so I don’t know.”

Goodall told the story of a man who met her and told her that he had saved up for years to visit the Serengeti and was disillusioned by an incident where his guide took him out to see a lion and by the time they got there, 22 other combis full of tourists had gathered in a circle to watch the animal devour its kill. He said he never wanted to travel again.

“So many of the operators never talk about the negative side because they want the customer so they paint a very rosy picture and they don’t really tell the people who might not go if they realize that their going would be distressing to the animal,” she said.

Poon Tip said that it was not just over-tourism of wild places that had an adverse effect on animals, but travellers should also consider attractions they visit that offer animal encounters like elephant rides, dolphin swims or tiger orphanages. Not only do many of those businesses mistreat their animals, he said, but they don’t do much, if anything, to benefit conservation of wildlife and natural places.

He noted that G Adventures, with the assistance of the Jane Goodall Institute, World Animal Protection and World Cetacean Alliance, undertook an audit of its animal-welfare guidelines not long ago and found some of them to be severely lacking and cut them from their programs.

“We thought we were this ethical company that looked at communities and culture and cultural preservation poverty alleviation but when we just took an audit of animal welfare we realized we had so many problems and it uncovered so many things and we were so grateful to be able to work with you on that,” he said.

We can put unethical animal attractions out of business

Goodall noted that not all attractions that offer animal encounters are necessarily bad, but said travellers should inform themselves about the ones are ethical and the ones that aren’t and those that aren’t can be put out of business if we stop supporting them.

“Tourism can play a major role by saying ‘well, if you continue to treat them that way then we’re not going to come and you won’t get our dollars.’” she said.

Both Poon Tip and Goodall noted that the tourism pause caused by the pandemic has not been good to animals in some places as the lack of tourism has led to increased poaching. The lack of money means governments can’t pay rangers to protect the animals so cartels swoop in to kill wild game and other local people who rely on the tourist economy can’t afford to buy food so are killing the animals to stay alive.

You can help, even if you’re not travelling

Even though they can’t go to those places to support them with their tourist dollars right now,  Goodall noted that those of us stuck at home can still help by sending donations to pay park rangers in the world’s most precarious places.

“Donations are really what’s keeping some of these parks going,” she explained. “People can donate to the ranger forces through the Thin Green Line Foundation and the International Ranger Association.”

Goodall conceded that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by events in the world right now, but urged us to make small changes around us that could affect positive change for everyone.

“I think the reason that more people aren’t actually rolling up their sleeves and trying to do something is because of their feeling of helplessness,” she said. “There are so many problems and you always hear ’think globally, act globally,’ but if you think globally, you don’t have the energy to act locally and that’s why I began our youth program, Roots and Shoots.”

The global organization with chapters in more than 140 countries was founded by Goodall to empower young people to affect positive change in their own communities.

“My biggest hope for the future is the young people,” she said. “Once they understand the problem and they are empowered to take action it’s incredible what they’re doing.”