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Canadians are preparing to return to South Florida as their government eases months of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
When the pandemic locked down the economy in March 2020, Canadians flocked home on flights from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Now, many businesses, from local restaurants to airlines, are looking toward the early fall for a substantial increase in business.
“We know for sure they are coming,” said Francois Grenier, general manager of Dairy Belle, a Dania Beach eating spot favored by visitors from Quebec who like poutine — which consists of thick beef gravy on French fried potatoes. “A lot of them when they left had left their cars here.”
A Canadian discount airline called Flair announced this week that it will start service Oct. 31 to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport from several major Canadian cities.
“Clearly, Canadians have historically spent a lot of winters traveling down south for warmer destinations — it’s the natural thing to want to do,” CEO Stephen Jones said in a telephone interview Friday. “In the last 15 months through the pandemic, it hasn’t been possible.”
The airline has acquired a fleet of 11 new and late model Boeing 737s and plans to charge one-way fares of $79 to $109 from places like Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Before the pandemic. South Florida travelers to and from Canada had the choice of Air Canada and WestJet, among others.
The COVID-imposed hiatus in air travel drastically cut service to Canada out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, with Air Canada becoming the sole airline offering nonstop flights, a spokeswoman said. Besides Flair, WestJet and Air Transat are expected to resume service to Canada at some time between September and October.
Businesses do have time to prepare as not too many Canadians are here yet.
“The majority of the Canadians who want to be in Florida right now are not,” Jones said. He expects leisure travelers to be the ones who come first.
“When you think of the rebounding demand post-COVID, this segment of the market will be traveling the soonest,” he said.
Many Canadian households are flush with cash, Jones added, as many people have been avid savers.
“I think that household saving levels and consumer balance sheets are at the best levels ever,” he said. “They want to go and just enjoy themselves with friends and family. They want to get down there [to Florida] and enjoy it.”
Marty Firestone, owner of Travel Secure Inc., a travel insurance agency in Toronto, said Friday that he’s been besieged with Florida-bound customers seeking to buy trip interruption policies.
“They’re not going to go back and forth like they did typically,” Firestone said of the snowbirds who typically winter in South Florida.
He said they tell him: “I want to go down in October and not come home until April.”
“Many want to get away as early as possible and want to stay as long as possible,” Firestone said.
Susan Harper, Canada’s consul general in Miami, acknowledged there is an urge to travel among Canadians who haven’t eaten at a restaurant, exercised at a gym or seen a movie in 15 months. They couldn’t, because of the government’s close monitoring of COVID outbreak data and testing and quarantine requirements.
“I’m not surprised there’s pent-up demand for travel,” she told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in a phone interview Friday. “I feel the bug myself.”
She said she has spoken to Air Canada officials who said “they are also seeing the trend you are seeing in terms of people coming down.”
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week warned that the government would not allow unvaccinated people to enter Canada because the move might jeopardize the progress the country has made in deflecting the coronavirus.
Restrictions for the unvaccinated
An estimated 78% of people aged 12 years or older in Canada have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, the country’s health officials say. The figure is roughly 47% for people who are fully vaccinated. The country had a population of 38.1 million in April 2020, according to the United Nations, just behind California’s 39.5 million.
Current restrictions — which center on quarantines for unvaccinated arriving travelers — remain in place until at least July 21. The world’s longest land border has been closed to unvaccinated travelers since March 2020.
Last Monday, the government activated a program that allows vaccinated travelers to enter Canada without having to self-isolate for 14 days, to take a test on the eighth day after arrival, or to stay in a quarantine hotel upon arrival at the traveler’s expense.
Proof of vaccination is still required to be exempted from the quarantine. Travelers are being asked to produce a paper or digital copy of the vaccine documentation and must submit COVID-19-related information into the national government’s Arrive CAN app before arriving in Canada
Travelers with only one vaccine will have to still abide by previous rules and quarantine in hotel and the remaining 14 days at home. Unvaccinated children traveling with fully vaccinated parents do not have to stay in a hotel, but they do have to isolate at home.