COVID-19 made for an unprecedented snowbird season in 2020/2021, as approximately 2/3 of snowbirds chose to stay home in Canada due to health and safety concerns and travel restrictions, while the 1/3 who did go away significantly altered the way they lived in their winter destinations and had to navigate ever changing travel rules and restrictions.
However, as vaccine rollouts in the U.S. - and now Canada - ramp up, it is looking more and more like next season will resemble something closer to a “normal”, and although the current season is just wrapping up now, many snowbirds are already turning their thoughts to next season – especially those who chose not to travel this year.
Despite the positive outlook, it is highly likely that COVID- 19 will still have a big impact on next season, and there are many questions snowbirds need to consider that are difficult to answer at the moment.
For those of you with an eye on next year, here’s a helpful list of items you’ll need to think about and plan for in order to return to your snowbird destination next Fall or Winter, some of which you’ll need to do sooner rather than later.
And of course, we’ll keep you updated on many of these issues in the coming weeks and months as new developments happen and we start to get more clarity.
Where to go
While the hope and expectation is that travel will open up by the fall as vaccination rollouts continue in Canada and the U.S., it is not a given, and it is possible that some non-U.S. destinations may continue to see high COVID case counts and/or travel restrictions.
For those of you who normally spend your winters in countries other than the U.S. where there’s uncertainty about what the COVID situation might look like, you may want to consider a back-up destination for the upcoming season in the U.S. or another country where COVID cases are likely to decline in the coming months – or where travel is not restricted
Getting there – Travel Restrictions & Testing Requirements
Getting to your winter destination – and back home to Canada - was problematic for many who chose to travel this past season, and while we hope things will be more or less back to normal by next Fall/Winter, there’s no guarantee.
Snowbirds should keep an eye on Government of Canadian travel advisory levels for your destination. At the present time, there is a Level 3 (avoid all non-essential travel) or Level 4 (avoid all travel) advisory in effect for virtually every destination in the world.
It is possible that travel advisories will be lowered for some destinations later this year, but nobody knows for certain and the government has not given any criteria as yet for how and when advisories will be reduced.
COVID containment will not be the same in all countries and some destinations may have a reduced warning level by the Fall while others may not. This could also be a factor for your travel medical insurance coverage.
Snowbirds will also have to keep an eye on a number of other current travel rules and restrictions and plan accordingly based on your preferred travel mode and destination:
Flying to your winter location
As anyone who did travel this past winter will tell you, there were far fewer flights operating and many routes were not operated at all as the winter progressed
The Canadian government has had tight restrictions on air travel and was able to get the country’s major airlines to agree not to fly to Mexico or the Caribbean from January to the present.
Flights between Canada and the U.S. were drastically reduced and many snowbirds found themselves having to travel on connecting routes through the U.S. to get home from the southern states - and from Mexico, the Caribbean and other countries.
However, most airlines now have their winter schedules for 2021/2022 available for booking and many routes are planned.
There are some good deals in terms of airfares and most importantly, many airlines are offering very flexible cancellation policies if you need to cancel or change your flights. Those policies may change later on if things improve in terms of travel so it is not a bad idea to book your flights now if you know your plans - and airfares will go up if there’s a high demand.
If you are still holding credit vouchers from an airline for cancelled flights, make sure you are aware of any expiry limits. It is a good idea to use these as soon as possible and book flights.
We do not yet know what the rules will be when flying in terms of precautions. Will masks still be required? Will proof of vaccination be required by airlines at some point? Or by your destination? It is too early to know for certain but “vaccination passports” are being discussed internationally. We also don’t know if negative COVID tests will still be required if you are fully vaccinated – but is it possible.
And we still don’t know whether quarantines will be required anywhere by next winter or by Canada when you return
Driving to your winter destination
The big question for snowbirds who normally drive to their winter destination is “when will the U.S. border open?”
There’s a general assumption that once the majority of Canadians are vaccinated and the same is true in the U.S. then the border will open. However, we can’t count on this and it is a good idea to have a contingency plan in place - just in case the border remains closed or is closed again in the future for any reason.
Snowbirds who normally drive to the U.S. (or even Mexico) in their own cars or RVs quickly became creative this past winter when the border did not open up as they had hoped.
Some took short flights across the border and had their vehicles shipped by commercial companies to meet them on the other side. Others flew to their winter destination and had their vehicles delivered there.
While the hope is that the border will open up at some point later this summer or in the fall, it is possible that it won’t and it’s a good idea to investigate the costs and logistics of alternative options.
The big question on many snowbirds’ minds is whether proof of vaccination will be required to travel to other countries.
Will your country or destination require proof of vaccination? What will the requirements be? If you have proof, will you still have to provide a negative COVID test?
Will you need to show proof to fly? To attend sporting events? To go to the theatre or other live entertainment events?
The answer is, we do not know just yet but it is likely that there will be some such requirements in some jurisdictions.
And what about booster shots? Are we going to need annual booster shots for COVID? It’s too soon to know, but if annual COVID booster shots are required, you’ll have to take into account whether you need one before leaving or if you’ll be able to get one while you are at your winter destination.
Travel insurance options that provided coverage for COVID were very limited this past season, as many travel insurance providers chose not to cover COVID due to uncertainty about the risks and issues of covering it.
However, now that vaccine rollouts are expanding in Canada and the U.S. and insurers have had more time to evaluate the risks of covering COVID, it is likely that several travel insurance providers who didn’t offer COVID coverage last year will come out with COVID coverage options for this season, and some of those who did offer COVID coverage will modify their coverage terms and pricing.
The thing is, some of these options may not be available until the Fall. Accordingly, while “early bird” shopping for travel insurance has always been common among snowbirds, your best bet for next season may be to wait until closer to your departure date when more options are available, providing you with more choice in terms of coverage and price.
Securing a rental might be more difficult
If you haven’t already secured a rental unit for next winter, you should start now, as securing a rental for next year will likely be more difficult than this past winter.
Because so many snowbirds chose not to travel last year, there were more vacation rentals available than usual and it was easier for snowbirds to negotiate lower rents. This was true in most destinations including Florida, Arizona, California, Texas, Mexico and beyond.
However, there are several reasons why rentals will be more difficult to find and more expensive next season:
- While most snowbirds stayed home in Canada last year, it is anticipated that the majority of snowbirds will go away next winter as vaccine rollout programs expand and travel restrictions are reduced.
- Many private owners of rental units in snowbird destinations are using those units for their own needs or their families, which means they won’t be available to snowbirds.
- The ability to work remotely is likely going to remain an option for many people, which will create more demand for rentals in the U.S. sunbelt and other warm destinations in the winter. This will mean snowbirds will be competing with younger adults for a seasonal place in the sun.
- The pandemic has pushed more people into early retirement, creating more snowbirds.
- There will be pent-up demand for travel in general once the pandemic is under control and snowbird destinations will be no exception.
Looking to buy?
The real estate market has been booming in many parts of Canada and the U.S., and the sunbelt is no exception.
In fact, vacation homes have been selling much more quickly than normal during the pandemic, and snowbirds looking to buy next season may be surprised by how competitive the market is and how high prices are due to domestic demand.
Having said that, if the Canadian dollar remains strong, there could still be buying opportunities for snowbirds looking to buy a vacation home.
The bottom line
While we anticipate next snowbird season will be much better than this past one (barring some unforeseen circumstances) many unanswered questions remain about travelling next winter.
Planning far in advance, making contingency plans and keeping a close eye on travel restrictions and COVID case trends are all essential.
As always, we will be keeping you informed over the summer of any news and updates as the COVID situation evolves.