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Travel Alberta looks to rebuild aviation

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Crown Corporation issues a Request for Proposals to rebuild airlines between Alberta and the rest of the world

A Westjet 737 passes over the Rocky Mountains in this undated photo (Avert Swail).

Travel Alberta isn’t waiting for a national strategy to start the work of rebuilding aviation in the province. The Crown Corporation has issued a public call to build an air strategy for the next year.

“Rebuilding air access is crucial to restarting Alberta’s tourism industry and overall economy and gaining more than our share of tourism’s global recovery,” Travel Alberta said in a Request for Proposals. “This will be a strategic priority for Travel Alberta.”

The pandemic has decimated travel and tourism. In March 2020, the government of Canada closed the country’s borders to most non-citizens and imposed a two-week quarantine on those allowed in.

The effect has been staggering. Statistics Canada reported Friday that only 22,500 non-residents arrived in Canada by air in January. That’s down from 425,400 in January 2020.

Travel Alberta estimates the provincial economy lost $4.2 billion in economic activity as a result of COVID.

“Prior to the pandemic, tourism in Alberta benefitted from strong air access from many national and international markets and received 70 per cent of U.S. visitors by air,” the agency wrote.

At the forefront

The government of Alberta has been at the forefront of trying to keep international air travel functional. It piloted a project at Calgary International to have international travellers take a COVID test on arrival. Their quarantine period could be reduced to as little as a week if they tested negative twice.

On Thursday, however, the provincial health officer announced the program’s end. The policy will make way for national rules requiring international travellers to get tested on arrival. They will then have to wait for their results at a government-approved hotel for three nights. Passengers will pay for the hotel stay out-of-pocket, adding as much as $2,000 to the cost of an international trip. If they test negative, travellers will then have to quarantine at home for 11 more days.

The new rules take effect February 22, Ottawa announced Friday. That had airlines calling on governments to work with them to chart a way forward.

“As the new measures come into force, it is critical that the government engage with the industry to develop, for April 30th, a truly robust and effective testing strategy based on science and that is tied to quarantine and border restrictions,” said Mike McNaney of the National Airlines Council of Canada in a statement. “These are necessary pre-conditions for the eventual safe, phased re-opening of aviation. Countries that successfully implement a science-based and data – based testing and quarantine policy will not only protect public health but also drive their overall domestic recovery, and take market share, investment and jobs from those countries that do not.”

Stimulate and support route development

Travel Alberta is placing itself at the forefront of just such a strategy. It specializes in marketing the province as an attractive tourist destination. The agency says the strategy will help it make investments to stimulate and support air route development.

“Unlike B.C., Ontario and Quebec – who will benefit from U.S. rubber-tire traffic when the border re-opens – Alberta is distinctly a fly-to market,” said Travel Alberta Chief Executive Officer David Goldstein in an email. “As we stage a smart recovery, Travel Alberta needs to increase its capacity as we engage with our aviation partners to rebuild necessary air links to Alberta from within Canada, key U.S. cities and international markets.”

The RFP calls for:

  • Data and research
  • Investment recommendations that will provide the strongest gains
  • Developing criteria for airlines and routes to prioritize
  • Identifying allies and partners to work with
  • Identifying potential airlines and route opportunities.

The air service recovery strategy is expected to be completed by April 30, 2021. Travel Alberta will pay up to $100,000. Bids are open for another week.

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