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Summer travel demand so far focused on driving and family, say travel agents

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By Cameron French, CTVNews.ca Writer

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    TORONTO, Ontario (CTV Network) — There’s an old adage in Ontario cottage country that God isn’t making any more waterfront. It’s a truth that’s particularly relevant in 2021 as demand for lakeside retreats has been understandably high.

“People booked up very early because last year they found if they were last minute they were not getting places. So people were much more proactive this year about booking early so we were mostly booked up for the summer by January or February,” William Wallace, who runs Muskoka-focused rental agency cottagevacations.com, told CTVnews.ca in an interview.

With provincial travel restrictions loosening and Canada set to lift most international travel restrictions for vaccinated Canadians on July 5, the possibility of a summer trip may seem within reach for Canadians who have spent the winter riding out the pandemic at home.

Newsletter sign-up: Get The COVID-19 Brief sent to your inbox However, travel agents say July and August are shaping up to be a summer of driving rather than flying, as Canadians book summer cottage and house rentals, or focus their vacation efforts on family visits.

“There’s a lot of demand for visiting friends and relatives. It’s the easy thing to pull off and the least complicated because you’re not arranging hotels and wondering what’s open and all of that,” said Richard Vanderlubbe, president of Tripcentral.ca.

Ontario opened its borders with Quebec and Manitoba to non-essential travel on Wednesday, and there are few travel restrictions in Western Canada. A quick perusal of booking sites shows cheap air fares between many Canadian cities.

But with indoor dining still restricted in many parts of the country and many attractions closed, the appeal of many typical travel destinations is greatly reduced, says Vanderlubbe. He also noted the Canadian government still officially recommends avoiding non-essential travel, which is putting a chill on bookings.

Lesley Paull, president of Paull Travel in Edmonton, said most of her booking activity has also been for driving vacations and largely limited to Alberta and British Columbia destinations, such as Jasper, the Okanagan, and Vancouver Island. She said she has been struggling to find cottage and house rentals for clients looking for destinations within driving distance of their homes.

“A lot of that is full right now and there [are] certainly not any deals. Everything is regular price or higher,” she said.

She said most of the international travel demand she’s seen has been for the late fall and 2022, but the announcement on Monday that the Canadian government will allow fully vaccinated Canadians to return to the country without quarantining starting July 5 may start to open the door to U.S. travel.

“I know a lot of people going back to their homes in Phoenix and Palm Springs that haven’t been there all winter, and also Hawaii is a big destination,” she said.

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