When can we start travelling overseas again?

Itching to travel again? One Ottawa travel agency says people are booking Caribbean and resort vacations for as early as this September and cruises are quickly booking up for 2022.

Travel agency says phones ringing off the hook, while epidemiologist warns of travelling too soon

An air passenger wears a face mask while walking through Montreal–Trudeau International Airport in December 2020. People are already booking vacations to overseas locations, but one epidemiologist says global travel won't be back to normal until at least 2024. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Itching to travel again? You're not alone.

One Ottawa travel agency says people are booking Caribbean and resort vacations for as early as this September and cruises are quickly filling up for next year.

"A lot of people are booking now because they've had their first vaccine," said Carolyn Pernari, president of Centrum Travel-CWT Vacations. "Everyone's just feeling more comfortable to take that plunge."

In the past month, Pernari said, she's seen a big jump in overseas vacation bookings, especially for fall and winter 2021. Cruises are in hot demand for 2022 while Canadians are also planning domestic travel.

"It's been related to the actual vaccination rollout, for sure. People just think that they're going to be vaccinated by September, so that they're going to be safe to travel after that."

  • Each day this week, CBC Ottawa is asking one question that's been on people's minds as vaccine campaigns pick up across Canada. This is part one.

People are mainly booking packages in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico, Pernari said. There are also more reservations for yachts and smaller resorts, and some couples are booking destination weddings.

"One of our agents is booking probably 10 vacations a day. She's very, very busy," Pernari said. 

Once quarantine travel rules change, Pernari thinks demand for travel will jump even more.

But will travel be safe?

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor with the University of Ottawa, said he doesn't foresee leisure travel happening on a large scale until people get their second vaccine dose.

In Canada, where gaps are as long as four months between shots, that means no travel until the fall.

"That's the way it should work. But I don't have a lot of faith in policy makers to do what should be happening," said Deonandan. "So I wouldn't be surprised if somehow we started opening up travel to those who've only had one shot."

Even if the population is well vaccinated, there will still be risks from variants and new COVID-19 cases, said Deonandan.

There will have to be vaccine passports. I don't see a way around it.- Raywat Deonandan, epidemiologist

"Vaccination is not a bulletproof vest," he said. "Because you're vaccinated doesn't mean you can't become a carrier and bring infection back."

The risk level of the destination also matters, said Deonandan, and travel to the U.S. could be "fairly robust" by September and October if both countries have low case counts and high vaccination rates. 

"There should be public health control and surveillance," he said. "There will have to be vaccine passports. I don't see a way around it."

A man wearing a mask crosses the Bir Hakeim bridge in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, on April 1, 2021. U.S. tourists may be able to visit EU countries this summer if they are fully vaccinated. (Michel Euler/AP)

Worldwide travel probably won't happen freely until at least 2024, when hot-spot countries are able to get enough vaccines to quash their epidemics, said Deonandan.

Americans may travel to EU this summer

South of the border, the U.S. — whose vaccination campaign is far ahead of Canada's — is talking with the European Union about plans to develop a type of international COVID-19 passport called a Digital Green Certificate.

That means Americans tourists who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may be able to visit EU countries this summer, according to The New York Times.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu told CBC Radio's The House over the weekend that her government embraces the concept of "vaccine passports" and will come up with a form of certification to allow vaccinated Canadians to travel internationally again.

EU officials on Monday proposed easing restrictions on visiting the 27-nation bloc as vaccination campaigns across the continent gather speed. Under the proposal, entry would be granted to all those fully vaccinated with EU-authorized shots.

Meanwhile, Doug Manuel, a senior scientist with the Ottawa Hospital, said it seems a little too soon to think about travel, even within Canada.

"I'm from the East Coast. I'm not planning to go back [this summer]," he said. "And that's the second year in my life that I'm not going back ... in the summer."

With files from Associated Press

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