Atlantic Canada’s travel market is on the rise, says Halifax-based agency

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The demand for travel from Canada’s east coast is booming, according to Reese M. Morash and Kelly Neonakis-Morash, co-owners of Halifax-based agency, TravelBug Travel Group.

“We’re seeing families and couples doing multiple trips with us in a year, which we didn’t see even five years ago,” says Neonakis-Morash.

Morash attributes this trend to the continued pent-up demand for travel that’s been observed in other markets across Canada since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

“For two years, people were locked down and it’s almost like an epiphany, this feeling of: ‘we’ve got to enjoy life while we can’,” he says.

In addition to more frequent travel, Neonakis-Morash says their clients are increasingly open to spending more to curate their dream vacation.

“I remember the days when everybody wanted a trip for $1,200 or $1,500 and that was their limit and they’d be shopping around trying to find something that fit within that budget,” she says.

“I find that they’re coming to us now and telling us what they want out of their trip and they’re more flexible within their budget in order to get what they want.”

Reconnecting Atlantic Canada 

The insights come as air connectivity slowly (but surely) returns to Atlantic Canada. At the height of the pandemic, Canada’s Eastern provinces faced near isolation as airlines suspended routes and scaled back on frequencies.

Air Canada, earlier this month, shared its international summer schedule, revealing some enhancements that benefit Atlantic Canada, such as the resumption of Halifax-Vancouver flights.

Halifax Stanfield International Airport. (Shutterstock/Marc Bruxelle)

WestJet, meanwhile, wrapped up an East Coast tour this week, with the airline’s CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech visiting Atlantic Canada for the first time, stopping in Halifax and St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador to share updates on new routes and connectivity.

This year, WestJet will offer direct flights to 18 destinations out of Halifax, including six domestic, one transborder, three transatlantic and eight sun destinations.

READ MORE: WestJet Group’s growth strategy comes to life in Halifax

The Calgary-based airline (which drastically reduced service in Atlantic Canada during the pandemic) will add non-stop service between Halifax and three transatlantic destinations including, Dublin, Edinburgh and London (Gatwick) this summer, as well as year-round connectivity to Orlando and seasonal service to Cancun.

Sunwing, as part of the WestJet Group, will provide direct access from Halifax to Cayo Coco, Montego Bay, Santa Clara, Puerto Plata and Holguin, Punta Cana and Varadero.

The airline is also ensuring Halifax remains connected to Western Canada, with year-round service to Calgary, where guests are a flight away from Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo, Japan.

WestJet's CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech (second from right) was in Halifax earlier this week. (WestJet)

WestJet is also making investments in St. John’s, where service to London (Gatwick) resumed on Wednesday (May 1).

Other carriers have also expanded service Atlantic Canada, including Porter Airlines, which has the only Ottawa-St. John’s flight on the market, and will introduce Deer Lake as a new destination, with service to Halifax.

And Air Transat and Porter’s codeshare agreement lets Halifax travellers combine a domestic Porter flight with an Air Transat flight to Europe, the South, the United States or Canada.

Toronto-based Canada Jetlines will also land in Halifax this June with a Toronto-Halifax service, as well as flights from Halifax to Orlando, Florida, supporting the province’s theme park and cruise customers.

Demand for European cruises heating up

It all bodes well for Halifax-based travel agencies like TravelBug Travel Group. Since its founding in 2009, the agency has focused on luxury and group travel. And while all-inclusive resorts and destinations used to be their primary focus, cruising has become a more important part of their business in recent years.

“The demand is there for cruising – we’ve really seen it in the last two or three years,” says Morash. “We have clients that are doing several cruises within a year.”

Morash says that many clients are drawn to cruising because it offers the opportunity to see several destinations within a single trip without the hassle of moving hotels and unpacking.

“It really gives people a taste of different countries on one trip, so they can even plan to go back to a particular country they loved and stay for a longer length of time,” he says.

Neonakis-Morash says they’ve also had a lot of success in converting regular all-inclusive resort clients to cruising, as both types of vacations offer hassle-free conveniences that appeal to many travellers.

“We find that to move an all-inclusive client into a cruise is easier to do if that cruise line offers a really generous beverage package,” she notes. “They’re expecting the all-inclusive experience when they move from resorts to cruising for the first time, so we try to minimize that sticker shock.”

Kelly Neonakis-Morash (left) and Reese M. Morash are co-owners of TravelBug Travel Group in Halifax, N.S. (Supplied)

Neonakis-Morash says that Europe is one of the most popular destinations for Atlantic Canadians right now, both via cruise and land.

“Most of the requests I get on a daily basis are for a Mediterranean cruise or land travel to Ireland or Spain,” she says.

Morash adds that many of TravelBug’s clients are looking for a change of pace from the usual sun destinations.

“People are really keen on exploring something other than down south,” he says. “They’re getting a little more adventurous.”

High prices & low lift don’t deter

 Morash says that skyrocketing air fares don’t seem to be dissauding clients from booking trips to Europe, but they are driving many travellers to book their trips earlier in order to maximize savings.

“Some people don’t realize that for Europe, in particular, you really have to book a year to nine months out to get the best rates,” says Neonakis-Morash. “Air fares have really climbed so we encourage people to book as early as possible and they are.”

Morash notes that Halifax acts as a central travel hub for Atlantic Canada. Nevertheless, east coast travellers know to expect multiple connecting flights to reach most destinations.

“We don’t have the lift that Toronto does, so for going to Europe, we have to fly to Toronto or Montreal and then fly back over Nova Scotia,” he says.

Morash acknowledges that clients recognize this region’s shortcomings when it comes to air travel, but those who want to travel are willing to make the trek.

Neonakis-Morash is optimistic that the increasing population of Halifax will spur a greater demand for direct flight choices.

“The population here has really expanded over the last year or two,” she says. “Hopefully that will start to bring a little bit more lift as the area itself continues to grow.”

With files from Michael Pihach.


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