Alberta tourism advocates call on government to remove PCR test for travellers
Some say their businesses primarily serve international customers during the winter
Alberta's winter tourism season is underway and it has some businesses worried that international customers will be deterred due to the mandatory PCR tests for travellers — prompting the sector to call on the federal government to adjust the rules.
Currently, recreational travellers entering Canada must show proof of a negative molecular test — such as a PCR test — taken within 72 hours of their departing flight or planned arrival at the border. But those tests can be expensive, running up to $300, and can take up to 24 hours — or longer — for travellers to receive their results.
Pete Woods, president at SkiBig3, which represents Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mount Norquay, says this decision impacts some Alberta businesses that primarily cater to international travellers, such as ski hills.
"Skiers from California come for a long weekend. Europeans come for a full week, and a quite a number of our employees come from the southern hemisphere for the year," he said at a news conference Tuesday.
Woods says requiring these travellers to take the pre-departure PCR test is too costly and can deter guests from making the trip.
"For SkiBig3 guests, the current restrictions are complicated, confusing and costly. And because of it, we're starting to see cancellations for this coming winter."
Some countries, like the United States, require only a rapid antigen test, which costs as little as $20 and provides results in as little as 15 minutes.
Woods says he doesn't understand why travelling rules can't be streamlined for countries.
"The federal government can help by simply removing the mandatory pre-departure PCR test for fully vaccinated travelers. We know we can have a safe season and a successful season," he said.
Local businesses hurting
Ski hills aren't the only ones expecting a decline in customers this season. Shops that cater to the sport are worried, too.
Andrew Matergio, owner of Banff Soul Ski and Bike, an outdoor clothing and equipment shop, says his business primarily serves customers around the globe.
"For small businesses like mine, we can't afford to lose another season. We depend on international travellers to drive our business, and without them, we're looking at another year without customers," he said.
He says he's already seeing cancellations, especially in the weeks leading up to American Thanksgiving.
"We've had lots and lots of interest leading up into the ski season as borders are reopening. And now as we get closer to that time, we're watching those cancellations rise. And that's a core part of our business that we rely on," he said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said in an email to CBC News that border and travel measures are reviewed on an ongoing basis, but that testing and quarantine requirements have not changed since Sept. 7.
"Molecular tests have a significantly high sensitivity for the detection of early-stage cases of COVID-19. For this reason, a pre-arrival molecular test is required in order to reduce, to the greatest extent possible, the importation of cases, the risks of transmission in transit, and risks to Canada's domestic health-care system," read the statement.
On Friday, Canada's chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, acknowledged that the PCR testing policy was being "actively looked at."
But Darren Reeder, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta, which represents all segments of the Alberta visitor economy, says the province's tourism industry has already taken a big hit and wants these decisions sped up.
"As we sit here at the start of the ski season, there is tremendous potential and opportunity to welcome the world back to enjoy some of the finest skiing opportunities you will find anywhere," he said.
"However, all of this remains tentative with the obstacles that remain at the border. And as a result, many tourism businesses are in serious risk of not making it through to next summer."
With files from Dave Gilson