THE WEEK

HOW TO VISIT CANADA

Here’s a plan to help young people travel-and give Air Canada a boost

September 8 2003
THE WEEK

HOW TO VISIT CANADA

Here’s a plan to help young people travel-and give Air Canada a boost

September 8 2003

HOW TO VISIT CANADA

Mansbridge on the Record

Here’s a plan to help young people travel-and give Air Canada a boost

AT THE BEGINNING of this summer, I used this space to talk about the problems at Air Canada—and then, in my next column, I made a plea to travel the country. I hadn’t intended the two columns to be connected, but some people found a common thread and have been mentioning to me an intriguing suggestion that I relay as an endof-summer idea for next year.

It’s simple: give Canadians, especially young ones, an incentive beyond the nationalistic one to see their country, explore it and travel it. Here’s the background: many young Canadians, it’s said, travel Europe instead of Canada during their summers because it’s cheaper. That’s an interesting argument, but is it true? For those well off enough to travel Europe, it often has a lot more to do with a rite of passage than money. But having said that, there have been times when getting across the Atlantic has been cheaper than getting across this country.

There always seemed to be deals for students—heck, for travellers of any age—that put our cross-country fares to shame. We’ve all seen ads for, say, Toronto-to-Paris fares that were half those of a Toronto-to-Calgary trip. But a lot of things have changed, not least of which is a shaky airline industry desperately trying to make its business work while at the same time being forced to make flying more affordable to a broader selection of travellers. That’s why you can find, as I did the other day, a Toronto to Vancouver oneway fare of $ 118—plus those pesky taxes and handling charges. But still, that’s a deal—and you didn’t have to fly in the last row next to the washroom, and stay over three Saturdays, and only fly on a “red eye,” to qualify. You just had to book the seat.

So enough about the cost argument: what would make our 25-and-under set more interested in seeing their country, while at the same time putting “bums in seats” on our airlines? Here’s the idea: most of us know about the Eurail pass—for about

$600, you can take trains almost anywhere in Europe any number of times over a set period. There’s an equivalent, of sorts, at Via Rail, but for the purpose of this argument, let’s stick to the air, where Canadians have no such offer. On the other side of the world, though, a pass is being used to boost air travel, and at the same time, tourism. For around $1,500, you can buy a pass on Cathay Pacific Airways and use it to fly to as many as 18 cities on routes that criss-cross Asia, during a 21-day period. Now, that’s still a lot of money for a student, so if something similar was to be offered here, maybe Ottawa kicks in half—something that would qualify as part of an airline industry support program. Think about what the airlines could do with all that potential business; think about what Canadian youth could do with the experience. You could travel to every province, every major city, all three territories-in short, you could see the country. That still leaves the issue of where to sleep and what to eat, but that’s where kids are inventive. After all, they’re not staying at the Ritz in Paris when they use the Eurail, are they?

There are no easy fixes for the airlines during these tough times; in fact, it will take a lot of different fixes, and the industry may be hard to recognize when the dust finally settles. But surely there are some imaginative ways to resolve this beyond just slashing jobs, cancelling flights into smaller communities, and serving food that leaves you wondering what you just ate.

I’m sure Robert Milton is putting his Maclean’s down right now, calling his sales staff and government relations people together, and saying: “Come on, this is a great idea ... let’s get on it now and have it up for next year!” Then again, how about that Champs-Élysées?

Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent of CBC Television News and Anchor of The National.

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