Do you miss travelling? Remembering the scramble one year after non-essential travel was grounded due to COVID-19

OTTAWA — Many in the travel industry refer to the Friday before March Break 2020 as the day the industry changed.

It was Friday the 13th, and that’s the day the Government of Canada issued a travel advisory, advising against non-essential travel due to COVID-19.

Many Canadians were debating their March Break plans; some choosing to stay home, while others went ahead with their planned vacation.

Bo Kopcewicz was travelling with her son to Mexico last year on that day. CTV News Ottawa asked her at the Ottawa International Airport if she was concerned about her trip during COVID-19.

“We are a little bit, not enough to stay home,” Kopcewicz said at the time.

Moments later, the federal government announced a travel advisory, telling Canadians to avoid non-essential travel abroad.

“My son was a little bit hesitant (at the time), he was kind of worried; especially when he saw other passengers asking for their luggage,” Kopcewicz told CTV News Ottawa on Wednesday, “When people heard the news, about 20 percent decided to go back.”

They continued on their trip to Mexico and stayed the full week, healthy. Once they returned to Ottawa, and days into their quarantine, they both got sick.

“I was very sick; I ended up going to the hospital, my fever went through the roof,” said Kopceqicz, who tested positive for COVID-19. Eventually, she recovered from the virus.

Other travellers were already abroad the day the government issued the travel advisory due to COVID-19.

Simon Gauthier left for a 21-day tour around Vietnam, days before the advisory.

“We were actually at the airport when we heard that Ottawa had its first case,” said Gauthier.

He landed in Hanoi, and got word while on the bus from the airport to the hotel that the trip had to be cancelled.

“Because they had been advised that Vietnam is shutting down within 48 hours,” Gauthier said.

His travel agent then made a mad scramble to get everyone home.

“Literally within 24 hours, we had new flights, new seats, new everything; and thank God, because by the time we got to the airport, other passengers were trying to get on airlines to get home.”

“It was all a blur,” says Elaine Simpson of Algonquin Travel and Cruise Centre. “There were like 16-hour days while we were trying to repatriate our clients; we had people stranded all over the world – people on land, on sea, on river cruises.”

Simpson says they were able to get all of their clients’ home, but there was a sense of urgency.

“There was just so much going on, and all at the same time – this overriding fear that the borders were going to close anytime.”

She says many travel agents have spent the past year helping clients get refunds for cancelled trips and help with travel insurance companies.

Gauthier says he received a full refund for his trip almost immediately.

Simpson is now looking forward to booking leisure trips when it’s safe to travel again.

“Now that the vaccines are out, we’re hearing from a lot of clients who want to get the ball rolling on plans for late 2021, hopefully – and certainly into 2022.”

A vacation, which we’re all looking forward to.

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