According to a Canadian official, Canada attempts to persuade America's frequent flyers to fly north on Air Canada (AC.TO) as the government ramps up attempts to resurrect vital traffic from the United States.
COVID-19 has harmed tourism in Canada's most populous province. According to government data, Canada saw only about 178,000 overnight visits from the United States in the first half of 2021, compared to 6.8 million in 2019.
Destination Canada, the government's tourist agency, launched its first campaign targeting regular passengers in the United States on Monday, collaborating with the country's largest airline.
It's part of the tourism commission's larger C$14 million ($11.2 million) campaign to attract traffic after Canada recently opened its borders to vaccinated visitors. It is unknown how much the specific frequent flyer program will cost.
Gloria Loree, Destination Canada's chief marketing officer, told Reuters ahead of the launch, "This is super-focused in terms of our ability to reach frequent flyers,"
Up to 20,000 American Airlines (AAL.O), Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N), and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) frequent travelers in the United States might receive matching status when traveling Air Canada north of the border under the scheme.
American Airlines did not immediately reply to a request for comment from Delta.
Southwest, which does not directly service Canada, said in an email that the government arm's backing is helping the industry "to restart substantive air travel."
Travelers with frequent-flyer status get benefits like priority boarding, which would otherwise cost a premium rate or a fee.
While airline status matching is widespread, Destination Canada claims this is the first time a tourism agency has utilized it to encourage visitors to their country.
Loree explained, "This is the push to get them coming to Canada,"
She stated that eligible United States frequent flyers who book and travel north on AC before Jan. 15, 2022, will keep their status with the carrier for the entire year.
It comes as governments relax travel restrictions, with the United States due to reopen to vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries in November.
Loree explained that sponsoring frequent-flyer status matching is similar to other incentives provided by Destination Canada, such as a separate campaign this year with Air Canada's competitor, WestJet Airlines.
The goal, according to Loree, is to reopen routes from the United States while also attempting to entice visitors to return to Canada.
Air Canada, which has been in financial trouble, received a C$5.9 billion ($4.7 billion) government bailout package in April, gaining approximately 6% ownership in the carrier.
While Canada's high vaccination rate may reassure visitors, the cost of the COVID-19 PCR test required for arrivals may deter some, according to Frederic Dimanche, director of Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Loree believes that targeting regular flyers in the United States is advantageous because they are already familiar with the standards.
Loree replied, "They've figured out how to travel," "So we want them to consider Canada as their next trip."
In Toronto, Air Canada's stock gained 3.48 percent.