Spike in travel demand in Fort McMurray even though international flights still a while away
Fort McMurray International Airport will be able to offer international flights as of Feb. 28
Travellers looking to escape northern Alberta's winter doldrums for warmer climes are scoping out their travel options, even though it's likely to be a few months before international flights return to the region.
Fort McMurray International Airport will be able to offer international flights as of Feb. 28 after the federal government announced it is lifting the bar on airports accepting international flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
RJ Steenstra, president and CEO of the Fort McMurray Airport Authority, said Tuesday the airport authority is working on flight plans, but there are no international flights to announce at this point.
The goal is to get sun destinations in places like the United States or Mexico, he said.
"We're hopeful that we'll be able to make some announcements coming into the spring and summer of this year," Steenstra said.
He said the airport is working with carriers on international flights.
After being devastated by COVID-19, Alberta's major airports have high hopes about the recovery
- COVID-19 another blow to passenger traffic at Fort McMurray airport after years of decline
The airport is still rebuilding capacity for domestic flights, which are still at about 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Chris Steedman, co-owner of C&S Travel in Fort McMurray, said there has been an influx of potential clients looking to get quotes for trips.
"People here want to travel," he said, adding that the company is getting three to five calls a day as well as numerous emails.
And it's not just people trying to leave northern Alberta. The domestic market is also on the rebound.
Kevin Weidlich, CEO of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development & Tourism, said he's relieved to hear the airport will be able to open international travel.
"Domestic routes are a priority right now, just because the economy is only just now beginning to reopen to where it should be, or could be, and international will soon follow," Weidlich said.
"It's part of a larger play to market our region as a destination, say for northern lights experiences."
Nikola Berube, director of sales for Alberta Motor Association Travel, said they had received the highest volume of calls in the past two week they have had since January last year.
Berube said the increase was linked to the government announcing relaxed requirements for COVID-19 testing; specifically that Canadians can now travel internationally with the use of an antigen test rather than a PCR test.
Many people are looking for hot destinations like Mexico, California and Las Vegas.
"People are definitely looking to get away right away," Berube said.
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