A guest looks out from a window at the Sheraton hotel near the Pearson International Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

A guest looks out from a window at the Sheraton hotel near the Pearson International Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Long wait times, lack of options frustrate travellers booking hotel quarantines

Travellers must show proof of a three-day hotel booking before boarding their flight to Canada

Before flying to visit relatives in Taiwan during a family health scare earlier this year, Dr. Rosa Wu, a psychotherapist who lives in the Vancouver area, weighed the pros and cons of travelling as Canada promised to implement stricter travel measures in the coming weeks.

What she didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to comply with those measures, which include a requirement that travellers book hotel stays for three days on arrival. When Dr. Wu’s husband called the government phone line set up for travellers to make the bookings, it took him three tries and nearly 10 hours to get through to an agent, she said.

“I’m not angry at the fact that we have to do this,” Dr. Wu said from her room at the Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver airport. “I think it’s about time Canada implemented strict measures. I just wish the measures worked.”

Travellers like Dr. Wu say they have paid the price of a chaotic rollout for the quarantine program even as they travel to Canada for reasons other than vacations.

Gogul Kumar, who flew to Vancouver this week from India to start a new job, said he spent hours on hold on the phone only to be disconnected each time. Some calls lasted as long as 10 hours and were never answered by an agent, he said.

The hotel requirement went into effect on Monday, as the federal government cracks down on non-essential travel amid increasing concern about more infectious variants of COVID-19. Flights on Canadian airlines to sun destinations have been suspended until April 30, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging Canadians to postpone their vacation plans.

Under the new program, travellers must show proof of a three-day hotel booking before boarding their flight to Canada. The only way to book a room is through a dedicated phone line run by the Public Health Agency of Canada. There is no online option.

Upon landing, travellers undergo COVID-19 testing at the airport and have to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense for three days, or until they receive a negative test result.

Prices for the non-refundable hotel stay range from roughly $1,000 to $2,000 depending on the hotel, according to staff members and travellers who spoke to The Canadian Press.

However, the logistical difficulties have led to headaches for travellers. At the time Dr. Wu’s hotel was booked, the Westin was the only hotel in Vancouver listed on the Public Health Agency of Canada website, she said. But when several cheaper options were added, Dr. Wu’s husband tried to call back to change the reservation, but wasn’t able to get through despite several hours of waiting, she said.

Dr. Wu ended up paying nearly $2,000 for three nights in the hotel, even though she received her test result after one night. Kumar also received his test result after one night in the hotel.

Keta Ketrushi, who travelled to Albania after her mother’s death, said she was prevented from boarding her flight home to Canada on Feb. 22 because she did not have a hotel booking. Her husband waited hours on the phone to book a hotel for her, she said, but when he wasn’t able to get through he managed to book a room with a hotel directly.

And David Anjo, who is moving back to Canada in July after 10 years of living in Vietnam, estimates that he has spent a total of 12 hours on the phone trying to make a hotel booking, but has yet to reach anyone.

“The experience calling on a phone system that really wasn’t designed from the get-go to be very effective has been pretty frustrating,” Anjo said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they could have done this a lot better.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the average wait time to reach an agent is two hours, down from the first two days of the program, according to spokesman André Gagnon. Once a call is answered, it takes on average 20 minutes to make a booking, he said.

The phone line received 20,000 calls on Feb. 19, the first day it was introduced. That figure was 15,000 on Feb. 20 and 10,000 on Feb. 21, Gagnon said. In total, 1,492 rooms have been booked for February, he said.

Megan Kat, a spokeswoman for American Express Global Business Travel, which is running the phone line for hotel bookings, said the company was aware of the high volume of inquiries and the wait times that callers were experiencing. The company didn’t respond to a question about the average wait time experienced by callers.

“We will continue to work with the Public Health Agency of Canada to mitigate caller wait times and provide the necessary support to those people arriving in Canada that need to book a hotel room,” Kat said.

READ MORE: Mandatory hotel quarantine rates far lower than federally announced $2,000

Instructions to people in quarantine at the Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver airport, which were reviewed by The Canadian Press, offer a window into the quarantine experience, with intensive staffing and cleaning protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Those measures include providing each guest with a cleaning kit consisting of sanitizing spray, gloves, cloths and garbage bags, since hotel staff do not enter the rooms to clean them. Public areas are disinfected every hour, with special attention to door handles and elevator buttons, the memo says.

Hotel guests are entitled to one 20-minute “supervised outdoor visit” per day, which they can arrange by dialing hotel guest services, whose staff will accompany guests outside via the hotel’s fire exit, the memo says. Elevators and stairwells are disinfected after each scheduled outing or arrival, it says.

“I’m just hoping that they’ll figure out something more efficient, in terms of booking the hotels,” Dr. Wu said, “because right now, it’s a complete disaster.”

READ MORE: Armed forces assisting with COVID-19 test site at Peace Arch border crossing

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

It costs as little as $7 to charge an EV at home. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Electric Vehicles a rare sight (in the Kootenays), but change on the way

Electric pickups will increase the appeal of zero-emission vehicles in years to come according to Blair Qualey of the New Car Dealers Association

Linda Krawczyk and her dad Doug Finney enjoyed a ride around beautiful Fernie on Friday thanks to Melanie Wrigglesworth and the local chapter of Cycling Without Age. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Cycling Without Age goes for its first spin

Doug Finney (86) got to enjoy a ride around Fernie

The Cranbrook Community Forest is good to go for mountain biking. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Snow’s done, time to hit the trails

South Country trails are good to go

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read