As scores of politicians and officials across Canada face backlash for taking tropical vacations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, federal transportation minister Marc Garneau says it is irresponsible for airlines to promote travel abroad.
During a press briefing Wednesday, Garneau announced new testing protocols for travellers, in response to reports that airlines like Air Canada have been hiring and paying influencers to promote international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel that it is totally unhelpful and counterproductive for airlines to encourage international travel,” Garneau said in French.
“Many, many Canadians are making sacrifices right now. So many Canadians could’ve travelled this year. However, they decided not to because that’s what is better for Canadians, for Canada, for their health, for the health of their loved ones.”
Let’s go to the beach
This week, the Globe and Mail reported on social media from some top bloggers and influencers showing these people taking international vacations “in partnership with Air Canada Vacations.”
Montreal-based influencer Tiffany Lai returned from the Caribbean island of Curacao this week after a sponsored Air Canada trip.
In one post tagging Air Canada Vacations, Lai praises the lack of other travellers on the beaches in Curacao.
“With the resort being at only 30% capacity, we really feel as though we have the hotel to ourselves,” she wrote. “We were incredibly lucky with yesterday’s beach day, as we were the only ones there ... we got to enjoy the turquoise water, sand between our toes and some much needed vitamin D.”
Other influencers travelled to Mexico as part of the company’s “Bring Back Vacations” campaign.
Canadian airline WestJet has also promoted international travel, setting up a program making it easier for Canadians travelling to Hawaii to get tested upon arrival. It was this program that several Alberta officials now under fire used to travel over the Christmas holidays.
According to data from the Hawaii government, 2,534 travellers from Calgary and 1,575 travellers from Vancouver arrived in the state between Dec. 18, 2020 and Jan. 3, 2021, with the vast majority reporting their reason for travelling as “vacation or leisure.”
Federal and provincial governments continue to advise against all non-essential travel outside of Canada as COVID-19 continues to surge around the world. Two new variants that emerged in the U.K. and South Africa are especially worrisome because they are believed to be more contagious than that most common COVID-19 variant.
“Airlines shouldn’t be encouraging international travel,” Garneau said.
Air Canada did not respond to HuffPost Canada’s request for comment. In a statement to the Globe Tuesday, the company confirmed they do use influencers in marketing campaigns, but have no further campaigns planned at the moment.