National Post (Latest Edition)

Some snowbirds refuse to change course

- Tyler Dawson

• Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s estimated 300,000375,000 snowbirds are contemplat­ing how they’re going to spend their winter. The diehards are committed to their southbound plans, looking for alternativ­es to land-crossing border closures or delaying their departures. Others are finding new, milder places closer to home.

For many in eastern Canada, Florida beaches, condos and villas are the prime destinatio­n. In the western parts of Canada, retirees and others able to spare a few months away head to Arizona or California. These states also have some of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in the U.S.

“There is a small group that are dedicated to go down this year, and they are planning to go no matter what,” said Stephen Fine, the president of snowbirdad­visor. ca. “There are also a number of people who have already decided that they are not going to go this season.”

Most are waiting to see what happens in the coming months, Fine said. Normally, the migration would have already begun.

“That’s the biggest thing we’re seeing right now, people are unsure,” he said.

In the United States, where more than 200,000 people have died from COVID- 19, the border is closed to non- essential vehicle traffic until Oct. 21. So, the only real option for snowbirds to get to their rentals, time share or winter home is to fly.

Some states have quarantine restrictio­ns, such as Hawaii. But according to the Canadian Snowbirds Associatio­n, the most popular destinatio­ns for Canadians do not.

“Currently, the three most popular sunbelt states for Canadian snowbirds — Arizona, California and Florida — do not require internatio­nal travellers to quarantine for a 14- day period,” says the associatio­n’s website.

Then there’s the matter of travel insurance. Some travel insurers, such as Medipac, a company endorsed by the associatio­n, are now providing coverage during the pandemic. “It’s a concern for people everywhere,” Fine said.

“Make sure you understand your policy inside and out, because there’s a lot of misinforma­tion circulatin­g now,” said Fine, who also sells travel insurance for snowbirds.

There are a few Canadian options for those deciding to winter closer to home, and that’s providing an opportunit­y for some destinatio­ns. “We have heard about an increase in people planning to do that — (go) to various B.C. destinatio­ns,” Fine said.

Victoria, B.C., is expecting a solid tourism business this winter. Or pretty good for a pandemic. Paul Nursey, CEO of Tourism Victoria, said the destinatio­n isn’t expecting a “gold rush” or abnormal influx, but similar to previous years. Tourism Victoria is planning a promotiona­l campaign to attract potential snowbirds to fly west instead of heading south.

“It is an opportunit­y for us, and we are starting to see signs that we are seeing that business materializ­e,” Nursey said.

It helps, he said, that there are services like kitchenett­es in many hotels, so they’re prepared for visitors who are planning to stay a while.

“It’s going to be a ray of light,” Nursey said. “We expect to see some recovery next summer, so it’s really important to us.”

Osoyoos, in southern British Columbia, may not be warm, but is certainly milder than other parts of the country. “Snowbird specials” are popping up at hotels and resorts. Already, a Facebook group dedicated to Osoyoos snowbirds has attracted people who, having spent years wintering in the United States or Central America, are giving B.C. a shot.

Snowbirds face other unique challenges. People who usually take their RV south for the winter now are facing the possibilit­y they will need to find rental accommodat­ions or some other alternativ­e.

Wherever they end up, their wings will be clipped. “People who do go are going to hunker down in their winter destinatio­n and stay there,” Fine said.

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