Air Canada has hired social media influencers to encourage Canadians to travel on non-essential vacations despite federal guidelines that encourage people to stay home in the event of a COVID-19 surge across the country.
Social influencers paid by Air Canada Vacations promote leisure travel within the country and to international destinations.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced changes to a pandemic sick leave program that will deny benefits to people traveling abroad on vacation.
“No one should be going on vacation abroad at this time,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. “You have to take this seriously.”
Trudeau said Canadians taking non-essential travel do so at their own risk, against federal government guidelines, and will need to test negative for COVID-19 before returning on January 7.
The domestic airline industry criticized the new test rule. The International Air Transport Association called it “harsh and unworkable,” and said the requirements should be relaxed for those who test negative.
One of the social influencers hired by Air Canada is Daniel Reyes of Toronto, who uses Instagram and his blog to promote the airline’s travel and vacation packages.
“We are no longer living in March 2020, and pleasure travel can and does happen safely,” Mr Reyes wrote in a December 1 post of a holiday he planned to take in the middle. of the month in Vancouver. “Why Air Canada Vacations? Because I feel completely safe in their hands.
Reyes praised Air Canada for putting safety first, saying its planes are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, have HEPA filtration systems that capture 99.9% of airborne particles and that customers must wear masks.
“Yes, the world is different and luckily so is travel,” he wrote. “If you don’t want to travel, you don’t have to. But if you get the chance and the opportunity presents itself, Air Canada has made sure you can do it safely.
Mr Reyes posted photos of the restaurants he ate at and the sites he visited during his four-day trip to Vancouver in mid-December. He was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.
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Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline uses social media influencers as part of its broader marketing agenda, “and to reach audiences, traditional media is not penetrating.” did he declare. “For the moment, no new influence commitments are planned.”
Lorne Wiesenfeld, associate dean of postgraduate medical education at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of medicine, said it was not wise to travel, especially as two variants of COVID-19 emerged , highly transmissible.
“It’s an unnecessary risk, especially with the new variants that have come out of the UK and South Africa,” he said. “We don’t know what the real risk is given these new strains… and with a population that is largely unvaccinated at this point, I would advise people not to travel unless there are significant reasons. to do. I don’t think taking a vacation or any other non-essential trip is a reason to go. “
A spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Tuesday that Canadians should avoid non-essential travel, especially as the country faces a record increase in COVID-19 cases and provincial lockdowns, and as hospitals reach their capacity. More than 16,000 people in Canada and more than 1.8 million worldwide have died from catching the airborne virus, which can be transmitted by people without symptoms.
“We are reaching the number of dangerous cases in parts of the country,” Garneau’s press secretary Allison St-Jean said in a statement to The Globe and Mail, when asked about the Air Canada campaign. “Everyone has a role to play in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and we want to remind Canadians that travel restrictions and measures can be changed as needed and on short notice.
An Instagrammer who goes by the name Mitch_Explores posts for Air Canada and other companies with his travel partner, Jennifer Fast. The two posted photos of Mexico over the Christmas vacation promoting Air Canada Vacations and Iberostar hotels and resorts.
“If you follow best practices, there is very good infrastructure and procedures for traveling, despite the force of social media. It is possible… to have responsible decision making while traveling and to follow quarantine guidelines on return, ”wrote Mitch_Explores.
“If you are wondering if traveling again is right for you, be sure to follow along and if you have any questions for us, please send us a DM – we are ready to answer any questions! Ms. Fast wrote on Instagram.
Neither of them responded to the Globe’s messages.
Ken Wong, professor of marketing at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., Questioned the strategy of hiring people to promote travel as countries tell people to stay home.
“You are trying to convince people that it is safe to travel at this time when our Prime Minister has told people that if you go out of the country you are not entitled to [sick leave] benefits or whatever, ”Professor Wong said. “You know, it’s just silly. “
He said there was little need to promote travel. “I can’t think of a bigger waste of Air Canada money,” said Professor Wong. “After a year of lockdown, you don’t need to entice anyone to travel. By the time the restrictions are lifted, you are going to see a flood of travel like we have never seen before. “
Montreal-based leisure airline Air Transat and WestJet Airlines Ltd. of Calgary stopped using paid influencers on social media early in the pandemic, spokespersons said. Both still promote travel on social media. Sunwing Airlines Inc. did not respond to questions sent by email.
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