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As travel levels continue to ramp up towards even higher volumes than they were before the world shutdown due to COVID-19, the Region of Waterloo International Airport is ready to handle any surge.

 

“We’re probably in the top-10 of busiest airports in the country as far as movements but we’re also in the top-20 when it comes the number of passengers,” says Chris Wood, General Manager of the Region of Waterloo International Airport, noting he expects the airport will soon see that passenger ranking move up to the 12th to 13th busiest spot.

 

Chris says the airport is expected to welcome at least 500,000 passengers in 2022, which is slightly less than its initial projection due in big part to the arrival of the Omicron variant but expects to see that number double next year.

 

“We should be able to hit those numbers, with everything being equal,” he says, adding the opening of its new 12,000 square-foot domestic arrivals building in April – part of its $35 million Airport Terminal Expansion Project – is a continued sign of the airport’s importance to the economic vitality of the Region.

 

“Every thriving community has a big, bustling airport. Why should we be any different?” says Chris. “You can’t go to a world-class city anywhere without an airport being part of that.”

 

Currently, WestJet and Flair Airlines are providing a bevy of flights from the airport to a variety of destinations including Calgary and Edmonton, AB, Cancun, Mexico, Winnipeg, MB, and Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. In fact, this summer Flair has unveiled several additional destinations including Charlottetown, P.E.I., Deer Lake, N.L. and Montreal, QC, starting in July.

 

“We do expect Sunwing to return in the winter,” says Chris. “We also have an agreement with Pivot Airlines and expect them to arrive later this fall, but we don’t have a firm date yet.”

 

He says Pivot will offer several flights daily to Ottawa and Montreal, providing a key component in building the airport’s business clientele.

 

“We’ve kind of morphed into a low-cost carrier dream airport because we have a very large and affluent population that has been starved of non-stop service for many years, and we also have a very affluent business community,” says Chris. “But we haven’t really catered as much to the business community.”

 

He’s very candid when it comes to the struggles the airport has had trying to attract more business flyers, noting that smaller business owners and entrepreneurs are more cognizant of their finances so utilizing a low-cost carrier makes sense to them.

 

“But if you’re not paying for your own ticket, it’s more difficult to get people to use the services that are currently here,” says Chris, adding frequent flights a day out of Pearson Airport offered by larger carriers like Air Canada are more convenient for many business travellers.

 

Currently, he says at least 80% of travel at the Region of Waterloo International Airport is leisured based adding the split between business and leisure travel was about 50/50 when American Airlines offered nonstop flights to Chicago from 2011 to 2016.

 

“We saw a lot of people going to Chicago and beyond for business. But if the right type of service comes in, I think the business community would definitely use it,” says Chris, adding Pivot Airlines will be a great draw and caters to the business community thanks to its multiple flights daily to various business locations.

 

When it comes to attracting airlines, he says the process is extremely difficult since airlines must be very strategic where they place their inventory.

 

“The airlines get it. They know there is an opportunity here, but they also know there is more of an opportunity at Pearson,” says Chris, adding carriers like Flair that are destination-based and not interested in connections or using a hub and spoke model, can be easier to attract.

 

“But we’re happy to talk to any airline about service and we’ve got the facility now that can handle them,” he says, crediting Waterloo Regional Council for its continued support. “We can ultimately contribute to the bottom line of the Region.”

 

Chris says the ‘gold standard’ for a regionally operated airport in Canada are Kelowna and Abbotsford, B.C., and that Regional of Waterloo International Airport is quickly approaching those levels.

 

“It’s a model we hope to achieve and we’re getting closer,” he says.

 

To learn more, visit Region of Waterloo International Airport.

 

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The forecast is looking good for the summer tourism season in Waterloo Region.

 

After two years of uncertainties, restrictions and pivoting due to the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism sector is poised for a significant comeback.

 

“Everything is coming back this summer,” says Michele Saran, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region. “There is so much pent-up demand, and it seems like the concerns about COVID-19 are receding and people are feeling a lot more confident to get out and about.”

 

Compared to last year at this time, she says tourism operators in Waterloo Region, including hotels and attractions, have already seen a higher demand in the first quarter of this year.

 

“It’s going incredibly well so far, but there are still labour shortages and supply chain issues,” says Michele. “I know some of our hotels can’t run at full capacity just yet because of these shortages which is a shame because we’ve been hit so hard the last couple of years.”

 

To offset some costs surrounding the implementation of health and safety protocols to keep patrons and employees safe, Explore Waterloo Region and RTO 4 (Regional Tourism Organization 4 Inc.) distributed nearly $600,000 to support 125 attractions, hotels, and other operators in 2020 and 2021 through the Tourism Adaption and Recovery Program (TARP).

 

“Our industry was the first hit, hardest hit and the last to recover is what we say, and we still have those impediments in a way with these labour concerns,” says Michele.

 

She says this summer Explore Waterloo Region is taking a ‘divide and conquer’ approach when it comes its marketing tactics.

 

“As we are easing out of COVID-19 we’re looking to our local operators and BIAs to market our region to local residents,” says Michele. “We as Explore Waterloo Region are expanding a little further out with our marketing focus and trying to encourage people from the GTA to get out of the city and come to a place where it might be a little less urban, but with all the amenities of the big city; close to nature where they can get out and enjoy walking and bike trails and still have incredible culinary and cultural experiences, just with a little less of the crowds.”

 

Michele says the many festivals and attractions Waterloo Region has to offer this summer will be a big draw, such as the Cambridge Scottish Festival and the Canada Day celebrations which features a parade and returns to Riverside Park with fireworks.

 

“People are feeling a bit safer in being groups but still outside,” she says, noting this should be a good summer for domestic tourism due to long lineups at major airports which has been blamed on staff shortages and COVID-19 screening.  “There is still a little bit of concern about travelling internationally so I think this is the summer we really have to take advantage of the opportunity to get people in and around Waterloo Region to come and experience everything we have to offer.”

 

For a detailed look at what’s available, visit Explore Waterloo Region.

 

A few summer highlights in Cambridge:

  • Kin Carnival (May 26)
  • Cambridge Tour De Grand (June 12)
  • Cambridge Celebration of the Arts (June 17 – Civic Square)
  • Host Springs Music Festival (June 25 – Central Park)
  • Cambridge Celebrates Canada Day (July 1 - Riverside Park)
  • Thursday Night Live Performances (July 7, 14, 21 and 28 - Mill Race Park Amphitheatre)
  • Hespeler Village Music Festival (July 9 – Forbes Park)
  • Cambridge Scottish Festival (July 15-16 – Churchill Park)
  • Forbes Park Movie Night (Aug. 18 – Forbes Park)

 

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As the world slowly begins to reopen in wake of the pandemic, thoughts of visiting other places are very much on the mind of many.

 

Trave expert Judy Silva-Foye, Branch Manager at Vision Travel in Cambridge, says the pent-up demand for wanting to travel is growing steadily as restrictions continue to be lifted and vaccinations roll out.

 

“People are tired of being confined to their homes. They’re tired of being scared and not being able to socialize. They’re just tired period,” she says. “There is a huge demand right now for travel and I believe when the floodgates open, there will be a lot of people who just want to travel.”

 

The indication, currently being seen in the U.S., is clear that leisure travel is already beginning to rebound toward pre-pandemic levels as travel experts like Judy field numerous inquiries from people looking to book holidays for later this year and next.

 

But what about those travelling for business?

 

According to Fortune magazine, it was estimated that until the pandemic struck in March of 2020 decimating the entire travel sector, corporate travel accounted for roughly $300 billion of the global airline industry’s $800 billion in revenue and represented about 50% to 70% of its profit basis.

 

Companies during the greater part of this worldwide crisis quickly began to rely on Zoom meetings with more success than many had initially predicted, not to mention saving millions on travel with an expectation this trend will continue.

 

However, this may not be the case. According to a Wall Street Journal report earlier this month, many companies that have learned to do without travel during the pandemic say they are ready to start packing their bags again instead of defaulting to virtual alternatives. In fact, several high-profile events, such as the TED conference, are returning to an in-person format this summer.

 

“I think Zoom has filled a void and has allowed people to realize it can be an option. But I firmly believe it will not be the main option,” says Judy. “I see it as a secondary choice for some of those lesser calls or meetings that don’t require people travelling to discuss an issue.”

 

A survey conducted in mid-June by Statista – a German-based company that specializes in market and consumer data – contacted companies in several countries, including Canada, to get a sense of what their travel plans are.

The results among Canadian companies were as followed:

  • 18% said they have no plans to resume travel in the near future;
  • 52% have considered resuming travel in the near future, but have no definite plans;
  • 18% said they plan to resume travel in the near future (1-3 months);
  • 12% said they were unsure.

Judy says her company’s corporate division has been fielding many inquiries recently for business travel and have been signing new accounts.

 

“We have a bunch of new businesses that want to turn to a professional service to handle their business needs,” she says, adding human nature will play a key role in the recovery of the sector. “Human beings are relational. We were made to interact with other people so I expect travel will come back.”

 

According to Businesswire.com, which wrote in May about the Key Trends in Business Travel (2021) report, the lasting impact of COVID-19 will continue to affect the travel industry well beyond 2021.

 

Some of the key highlights in that report include:

  • Traditional reasons for business travel may see a decline, but a new kind of business traveler may emerge. As many employees may have become remote workers due to the pandemic, the industry can see an uptick of visiting colleagues when restrictions fully recover.
  • As vaccine rollouts are gaining traction across the world, it is opening-up the opportunity to travel for many. Important nations with high percentages of business travel are also far along with vaccination progress. The U.S., where 20% of domestic travel in 2019 and 2020 was for a business purpose, is progressing well with its vaccination program for example.
  • Many companies are focused on reducing emissions and carbon footprint to reach a sustainability goal. These companies will have sustainability practices in place with a corporate sustainability policy. However, many companies do not incorporate business travel into a sustainability policy. Some methods of travel can be extremely harmful to the environment, and it is the company's responsibility to ensure that sustainable options are always considered.

For Judy and other travel professionals, if there is one ‘positive’ takeaway from the pandemic is the fact that working with a travel agent can be vital in times of crisis, considering the many Canadians who were left stranded when COVID-19 hit.

 

“I think consumers can now see how important it is to actually deal with a professional,” says Judy, adding their connections to tour operators has been key. “We probably managed to get refunds for people faster and helped them navigate the unchartered waters of these trying times. People have realized how important is to have someone in your corner who has your back.”

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