What a Time to be a Travel Advisor! - theHumm May 2020

What a Time to be a Travel Advisor! - theHumm May 2020

By Emma Moxley

March began like any normal month. I advertised in the community and theHumm that I would be presenting a “Let’s Talk Travel” seminar on March 31 at the local library with my partner from Royal Irish Tours. Snowbirds were already warm down South, and some were en route to long-term stays in Europe — Spain and Portugal being typical hotspots.

We had heard about an outbreak in China, something we would soon become all too familiar with called COVID-19. But we were far removed from the areas of concern, so it wasn’t on our radar.

Things changed rapidly. At the beginning of March, our Canadian government announced a Travel Advisory for Northern Italy. We were reading of lockdowns, hundreds getting sick and some even dying. By March 9, all of Italy was declared an area to avoid for all non-essential travel. Next, the government declared “Avoid all Cruise Ship Travel”… and then came March 13. Prime Minister Trudeau declared an Official Global Travel Advisory to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice. This also included an advisory for all Canadians overseas to return home as soon as possible.

The news was sudden, and the impact was substantial. As travel advisors, with clients in destinations around the world and families ready to embark on their March Break getaways, we in the industry had to act fast. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but when asked “Emma, if this was your family trip, would you go?” I had to present the facts.

When the government announces “Avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada,” it means that if you travel after the advisory is issued, you are on your own. If airlines stop flying to Canada, our government does not have to bring you home. You are subject to any rules and regulations imposed by the country you are in. You are subject to whatever health care that country provides. In this case, some insurance companies immediately issued an advisory that you had ten days to leave the country before they would no longer cover health insurance claims related to COVID-19.

I told my clients that if it were me, the answer was simple — I would not take the risk. It was extremely unfortunate that people had to cancel their vacations, but the risks were simply too high.

My immediate focus was on travellers with departures in the next 24 hours that had to be cancelled. Next, I focused on clients in foreign destinations and how to get them home. Each case was unique. Borders in Europe were rapidly closing to flights from high-incidence areas. The policies of governments, airlines and tour operators changed daily, if not throughout the day. And this all affected clients of mine attempting to return home.

Changing people’s itineraries is normally pretty simple. But we faced a rapidly evolving situation. Things were unravelling right before my eyes. Italy was completely locked down; Spain was now a hot spot for COVID-19, and reports were arriving at an alarming rate of more cases popping up all over the world. I had the World Health Organization website up on one of my browsers and recall seeing 118,000 confirmed cases reported on Friday. By Monday it was over 140,000 confirmed cases. We needed to act fast.

Two of my clients (my parents, Sue and Rick) were in Malaga, Spain for a long-term stay: both in their mid-70s, one with asthma. They were my priority, as Spain was about to explode. The area they were staying in was preparing for imminent lockdown. There were already no available flights out of Malaga. The only flights were out of Madrid to Toronto via Frankfurt. I was discussing available flights with my parents over Skype with my Air Consolidator on the other line. I would propose an option, and it would be gone 15 seconds later. My mother really did not want to go to Madrid, the epicenter of the Spanish outbreak, especially to stay overnight there before the flight, not to mention the train travel to get to Madrid.

We were in a situation where thousands of people were trying to get home. We managed to confirm flights leaving Madrid on Monday, March 16. They had to board a train from Malaga to Madrid on the Sunday, overnight in Madrid, and fly out at 1pm on Monday. All looked good until my parents woke up, and the travel app I use notified them that the Lufthansa flight from Madrid to Germany was cancelled.

Panic set in for all of us. I suggested they get to the airport immediately and go to the Air Canada desk to see what they could do for them. I jumped online, to read that Germany had just closed their borders, and other countries in Europe were following suit. Airlines could not fly to these locations.

My mother texted me throughout the night and told me that people around them were buying flights online to other European countries only to find them cancelled after they had paid. Some had paid as much as $7000 for two. Booking systems could not cope with the massive influx, and the third-party booking engine was not up-to-date with its information.

After six-and-a-half hours working with three Air Canada agents at the airport, and wondering how on earth they were going to get home, the agents managed to get my parents on the only Air Canada flight leaving Madrid that day direct to Toronto. It was full, and there were nine people on the standby list, but somehow they got the last two seats. Likely, many were stranded at other airports unable to get to this flight, just as my parents had been stranded in Madrid unable to get their Frankfurt flight to Toronto.

My parents described it as a horrendous experience with many Canadians left behind. They were so relieved and thankful to the agents who helped them. These agents worked diligently, all the time knowing that they would be losing their jobs in two days. My parents happily went into 14-day travellers’ quarantine on their return.

My next priority was to reach my clients Margie and Dave in New Zealand and try to get them home. The time difference to New Zealand is GMT+12 hours, and they were near Mount Cook on a self-drive holiday with no cell reception, miles away from any airport. Not that it really mattered, since there were NO international flights to Canada available for at least three days.

Looking at flight availability from their location, the earliest I could get them out of Auckland was the 21st of March. They would have to get to Queenstown, fly to Auckland, and overnight there on the 20th for a 7am flight via Sydney, Australia to Vancouver and then to Ottawa.

Because countries were changing their border regulations, I called the Australian government line to ensure they were still allowing non-citizens to transit through. As long as they were not coming from China, Italy or Iran, the answer was yes. They could transit through but were not allowed to leave the airport.

March 21st arrived. I received an email from Margie and Dave. They were at the airport, and the flight was there, but they were being denied boarding. The Australian government had closed their borders at 9pm on the 20th. Only Australian citizens were allowed to enter, and citizens of Fiji were permitted as it was a connecting route. I asked them if there was an Air Canada agent on site to help them get another flight out, but they were not coming on duty for another three hours.

I told Margie and Dave I would call the Australian Embassy in Ottawa and ask for a compassionate clearance to allow them entry to Australia only to connect. The embassy agent said she would call me back in ten minutes. Unfortunately, our plea was denied, and my clients were left at the gate with no flight home.

I searched online and could not find two available tickets to Canada. They said there was a Flight Center Agency at the airport, and they were in line to speak to someone. They were able to get two tickets, but on different days: one on the 26th, the other on the 28th. I hadn’t thought of splitting them up, and was so glad they were able to get those tickets. I made arrangements for them to stay at the hotel in Auckland but felt really uneasy about Margie staying two days past Dave’s return. There were just too many things changing at an ever-increasing and alarming rate. There was even talk of New Zealand closing their borders, not to mention that their travel insurance was originally booked to have them return on the 26th.

Under the policy agreement, if a client is stuck in a destination, the policy automatically extends for 72 hours beyond the original end date. If Margie’s return date pushed beyond that 72-hour period, a new policy would have to be issued, and any new policy would not cover COVID-19, since it was now a known issue. I suggested she go to the airport with her husband on the 26th and see if she could get on that flight, maybe through standby. She did manage to get on that flight, and they were both home on the 26th.

It wasn’t smooth sailing though. Air Canada had cancelled 60 percent of their domestic flights, including their Vancouver to Ottawa flight. Dave got a flight from Vancouver to Montreal then on to Ottawa, but Margie was only able to get a ticket to Montreal.

I ended up renting them a car from Montreal to Ottawa as a backup plan, because I could not find any available flights to Ottawa. There was one available on the 27th, but the price was over $1000. They drove home from Montreal and self-quarantined for 14 days.

Through all of this my parent agency, Travel Professionals International, hosted two calls a day for travel advisors across Canada to keep us abreast of the changing landscape: borders closing, airlines cancelling their operations or reducing flights, cruise ships unable to come into port, tour operators offering future travel credits on cancelled trips, and insurance providers changing/amending their policies. To say TPI has been supportive throughout this would be an understatement.

This is an unprecedented situation, and the effects on the travel industry are massive. The industry will recover, and it will change. To what, we don’t know. But people will still yearn to get away, to experience new cultures, to meet new people and to have adventures. We just have to practice patience as this all unfolds. Dream today; travel tomorrow… well maybe not tomorrow, but hopefully in the near future.

Self-isolation is hard on many of us. We are social creatures. But this is the one thing we can do to try and help flatten the curve and get through this pandemic. Our Public Health Department continues to update and provide information on what we can do. Reach out to your friends and family over the phone, host video calls, do what you can to make a difference.

We are all in this together. Stay safe and healthy.

— Emma Moxley is a Travel Advisor with Travel by Emma, TPI


The Return of the Victory Garden: an Interview with Ed Lawrence - theHumm May 2020

theHumm is reaching out to members of our Ottawa Valley community to ask how they are finding ways to use their gifts in these challenging times. Today’s subject is Ed Lawrence, CBC Radio’s gardening guru. We emailed Ed to find out what he’s been up to, and what advice he has for novice gardeners who may want to try their hand at growing their own veggies this year.

theHumm: I imagine you have had fewer speaking engagements than usual this spring — what ha......


Poplar - theHumm May 2020

By Susie Osler

A Poplar round supports my weight. Its dying body lies here, sprawling in pieces around me. Rings of honey-coloured carbon circle in around dark, decaying heartwood that Woodpeckers have already begun to investigate in search of larvae. We sit here together, Poplar and I, on the tenuous, thin layer of unfolding life that is happening between our bodies and the eons of sand lying beneath us.

An accumulation of debris has fallen over decades — an offering to the Earth from the sanctuary of other Po......


The Great Veggie Grow-Off is a GO! - theHumm May 2020

The Great Veggie Grow-Off, a project of the Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardens, is an annual challenge between the nine communities of Lanark County and Smiths Falls to engage more citizens in growing healthy local food at home or in community garden beds — all with an eye to bolstering healthy food donations to our local food banks. This friendly challenge pits encourages communities to see which can grow the most food to donate, so the true winners each year are the food banks......


Calling All Novice Vegetable Gardeners - theHumm May 2020

By David Hinks

What is your reason for wanting to start a vegetable garden? You have found that grocery stores have lots of empty shelves? You fear that global supply chains are breaking down and trucks will not be able to cross the border? You’ve always wanted to try growing vegetables and now you have the time to try it? You’re desperately looking for a project to keep the kids busy?

The beauty of starting a vegetable garden is that there is no downside — even if there are no “dystopian-type” break......


Give Moms a (Coffee) Break! - theHumm May 2020

By Sarah Kerr

Well, to be honest, I didn’t think I had it in me. We recently moved back to the Valley from downtown Toronto, and while I saw all these amazing homeschool moms, and was often evangelized by them about how I should consider it, I always thought “bless your heart — but there’s no f-ing way I could do that without losing my mind!”

Six weeks into homeschooling, I have to say: I know myself well. My adrenaline is running out. I’ve tried ALL the coping mechanisms for my personality (Enneagram Type 7) ......


Playful May - theHumm May 2020

By Nicki Gallo

The first time I wrote a love letter to a stranger I felt giddy with secrecy and curiosity. “You are a unique and sparkly human. Thank you for shining your light.” I folded it up and left it on the back of the seat in front of me and got off at my stop. 

The love note wasn’t directed at anyone in particular and I will never know if someone discovered that little mystery letter on the back of a train seat. And that’s ok. It was an experiment in play. The experience left me feeling vulner......


Reflecting on Earth Day 2020 - theHumm May 2020

By Rob Riendeau

As I write this, it is the 50th annual Earth Day. And as with most things these days, the distorting lens of the current pandemic is making me examine the day from an entirely new perspective.

Up to now, the challenges of respecting the Earth by minimizing our impact on the planet and our co-habitant species of plants and animals seemed impossible. Ideas and innovations died as soon as they were uttered, faced with the impracticality of getting from here to there. Grand announcements of bo......


Hygge Your Home!
Turning Your Space into a Calming, Comfortable Sanctuary
- theHumm May 2020

One morning a few weeks back I ordered a book from the wonderful indie bookstore two blocks from my home. I was feeling sad and scared, lonely and anxious. Books often calm my nerves. So I chose one I thought might bring me some comfort. By 5pm the book — The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking — was in my mailbox and it was beautiful just to look at, the cover art joyful and comforting. I plunked down on my couch and began reading, in short spurts.

Page after page I was char......


The Best Gift - theHumm May 2020

By Glenda Jones

Ah, the allure of spring! The desire to drop everything and play hooky, leave all the “have-tos” and indulge in a “want to”, even if for only one afternoon when the sun is warm on your back, and all the winter wear is flapping on the clothes line. We’re supposed to feel guilty about doing this.

However, here we are in playing hooky mode, with days stretching out for who knows how long. Did we realize that we were being handed the gift of time without the necessity of guilt? For most......


Takeout, Take 1: Eataria Unlimited - theHumm May 2020

By Sebastian Weetabix

BC (Before Covid), Weetabix’ main topic was restaurants, many of which have been severely impacted by the necessary restrictions of social distancing. This is a gentle way of saying that forced changes to an established business model can be catastrophic. Our last article (and first in the time of social distancing) advocated ordering takeout but was short on specific recommendations. We will now start to address these and other related matters in the upper part of our food chain.



Be Happy — Go Play in the Dirt! - theHumm May 2020

By Sally Hansen

Dirt as an antidepressant? Ever since 2007 researchers continue to confirm that there is a natural antidepressant in soil. Ask any gardener – dirt makes you happy.

This is great news. Growing research suggests that simply playing in the dirt may provide some of the same benefits as Prozac or other pharmaceutical antidepressants, without side effects or the danger of chemical dependency. Microbes naturally found in soil consistently demonstrate a positive link with mammalian he......


What a Time to be a Travel Advisor! - theHumm May 2020

By Emma Moxley

March began like any normal month. I advertised in the community and theHumm that I would be presenting a “Let’s Talk Travel” seminar on March 31 at the local library with my partner from Royal Irish Tours. Snowbirds were already warm down South, and some were en route to long-term stays in Europe — Spain and Portugal being typical hotspots.

We had heard about an outbreak in China, something we would soon become all too familiar with called COVID-19. But we were far removed fr......


The Community Centre without Walls - theHumm May 2020

The North Lanark Community Health Centre (NLCHC) and PEP Seniors Therapeutic Centre (PEP) are teaming up to help area seniors, and adults living with disabilities, stay connected through a new telephone-based group programming venture called the “Community Centre Without Walls – Lanark County”. PEP and the NLCHC have a lot of experience in delivering in-person group programs for seniors. Collectively they have served hundreds of older adults and seniors each year through their programs, including the......


In the Wake of the Nova Scotia Murders
A Call to Address Violence Against Women and Girls
- theHumm May 2020

A number of Ontario anti-violence shelters and advocates are jointly calling on public officials to address violence against women and girls as the key inciting factor in the recent mass murders in Nova Scotia. The shelters, including Kingston Interval House, Lanark County Interval House and North York Women’s Shelter express deep condolences to all those affected. “We grieve this unimaginable tragedy alongside the entire country and know that healing will be long and painful.”

This weekend br......


COVID-19 Gives Us Grief
Dealing with Ambiguous Losses
- theHumm May 2020

By Barbara Carroll

As we move through the COVID-19 pandemic we face multiple losses and experience the range of emotions of grief: anxiety, fear, sadness, despair, anger, loneliness, disappointment, hopelessness and regret. We each have our own losses, and we have all lost things such as peace of mind, freedom, independence, control over much of our lives, physical contact and a sense of safety. Well, we can say, COVID-19 is temporary and when it is over life will return to normal. That may be, but we are not there yet,......


Show MVFN What’s in Your Backyard this Spring! - theHumm May 2020

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are launching a Lanark County backyard nature discovery project on iNaturalist. This will be a friendly challenge to see who can make the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people during the event. As an extra bonus, all the nature observation data that you post to iNaturalist contributes to the biodiversity record of Lanark County and citizen science in g......


CFUW 2020 Education Awards
Application Deadline Extended to May 31
- theHumm May 2020

By the CFUW Perth and District Education Awards Committee

The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Perth and District is now inviting applications for financial assistance from women in our community who are pursuing post-secondary education. Eligibility is subject to acceptance in a recognized post-secondary program of study and is based on financial need. Applicants must reside in the region of Perth and District, but the educational institution can be anywhere in Canada.

In the rapidly evolving situation regarding COVID-19, CFUW ......


An Inspirational Escape - theHumm May 2020

The Rideau Lakes Artists Association’s annual Art show “Paint the Summer” has been cancelled this year due to COVID-19, so instead they will be hosting a virtual show/sale called “An Inspirational Escape”.

Starting in early May their talented and diverse artists will showcase their art on Facebook Facebook.com/RideauLakeartists and Instagram Instagram.com/rid......


Attention Students Interested in the Natural Environment - theHumm May 2020

The application deadline for the 2020 Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Awards is Monday, June 1. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) are looking forward to awarding the annual Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary to the environmental leaders of tomorrow!

The MVFN is seeking graduating high school students who want to “make a difference” in meeting the environmental challenges of the future. The Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary is offered annually to assist students who will pursue ......


United by our Vulnerability - theHumm May 2020

By Helen Antebi

“Let this COVID-19 crisis be a lesson to us all in the power of collective vulnerability. We are witnessing and expressing large-scale humility, generosity and compassion most of us have not previously seen.”

This crisis of the virus has and should be a forever-lesson in vulnerability. If we have learned one thing we have in common in this time, it is that we all do not know. Our leaders do not know, parents, friends, siblings, peers do not know. We cannot answer definitively when this ......


On This Month’s Cover - theHumm May 2020

A veritable garden of art!

(clockwise from top left)

Claire Jacobs, clairejfineart.com

Sally Hansen, ...more