20 JUL 2017: At a recent Discover America Canada meeting held at the flashy new Globe and Mail offices in Toronto, keynote speaker Jennifer Hendry, chief researcher for the Conference Board of Canada shared some interesting insights, statistics and trends as to Canadians travelling to the US and elsewhere.  

Canadian leisure travel to the US declined precipitously in 2015 as 12.2 percent fewer Canadians travelled south for fun. That occurred virtually in tandem with the decline of the Loonie against the US dollar, and sluggish economic growth that impacted the global economy. In 2016 things did not look hugely better as southern leisure cross border traffic declined a further 7 percent. Total Canadian traffic to the US dropped over 3.8 percent in 2015, and another 3.1 percent last year.

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Snowbirds still head south

The exception to the decline in leisure travel are Canadian snowbirds who, since 2000, have continued to flock across our southern border at an average annual rate of 9.8 percent. And, this is not likely to change, as our aging population is far more likely to confine travel to domestic or US locations as the years encroach.

Going elsewhere

Meanwhile, overseas travel from Canada rose 10 percent in 2015, and 3.7 percent in 2016. Cuba saw a big bump in 2015 soaring 10.6 percent, before dropping 4.4 percent in 2016 - perhaps in reaction to the much hyped - but subsequently fizzled - “American invasion”. In any event, something to watch in 2017.

Europe (based on 24 countries) saw a big - 12.1 percent increase in 2015 and then a 4.3 percent in 2016, and the Asia-Pacific sector (16 countries) saw an increase of 9.2 Canadian visitors in 2016.

The Trump Effect

Half of all Canadians and 37 percent of likely visitors to the US reported that the Trump Presidency will negatively impact their travel plans. Travellers from Quebec are the most ambivalent, while BC and Ontario are the least likely to vacation south of the border during a Trump presidency.

Men (31 percent) are less likely to be concerned about any disruption to plans, then women (43 percent). However, it is thought, and appears to be borne out by recent numbers, that the likelihood of a current ‘Trump Slump’ has been overstated.

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The best intentions. Will we go and where?

Last summer 45 percent of Canadians planned to travel to the US, this year 43 percent intend to do so, well ahead of Europe, the next highest contender (26 percent planning to go this year). Then 19 percent think they might go to the Caribbean or Mexico and 7 percent to Asia.

That’s all very well, but when one looks at where we are in the stage of trip preparation to the US in 2017, the breakdown tells the tale. A full 27 percent of Canadians are still ‘dreaming’ of their trip, 22 percent are ‘investigating’ it, 26 percent have reached the ‘planning’ stage and just one quarter – 25 percent – have actually made the booking!

It’s interesting to break that planning sequence into age groups:

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and, if you look at the planning sequence by province:

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So essentially, while the rest of the country is dreaming, investigating, planning and generally faffing about, our Maritime cousins have actually done something about it, and, even as we write, could be packing!

Let’s take a look at who and what Canadians check on the Internet for their travel planning

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 The vacation booking window

One fifth of all Canadians planning a summer trip have already made their travel arrangements (thank you Atlantic provinces) and four in 10 of those are headed to the US. Forty percent of all those travellers planning to head south of the border are likely to purchase a package holiday – that’s up from the 2016 results.

The outlook for summer

With the Loonie expected to stay in the mid-seventy cent range and travel prices expected to rise, Canadian consumer confidence varies by region.

Demographic changes impact travel and travel choices:

• There is a dramatic increase in the population aged 55+
     • boosts the number of trips taken and multi-generational travel

• The visible minority population is rising quickly
     • Much higher proportion of Asian-born immigrants
     • Increased share of overseas VFR trips
     • Supports family travel to iconic US destinations (Disney, Hollywood, Niagara Falls, Hawaii etc.)

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Direct seat capacity to US cities from Canada

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The top three states in which Canadians plan on taking summer leisure trips are California (18.3%), Florida (11.7%) and New York (11.6%). These are followed by, in order, Nevada, Maine, Washington State, Hawaii, Arizona, New Jersey and Tennessee.

Total outbound travel for Canadians in 2016 was down – 1.1 percent. In 2017 it is expected to increase to + 1.7 percent. Visitation to the US in general was down – 3.2 percent in 2016 but is expected to be on the positive side at 0.7 percent in the summer of 2017.

Florida which was down 9.4 percent in 2016 and is expected to fare better this summer though still at a loss of - 0.7 percent. Las Vegas was up 2.9 percent in 2016 but is expected to dip to -4.3 percent in the summer of 2017. Phoenix which was a big loser last year at -22 percent shows a 2.8 percent gain this year.

 

US Visitor Characteristics

Eight in ten visitors from Canada to the US reside in Ontario, BC and Quebec. Airfares are tracking higher but accommodation costs are down and while air travellers have a higher yield, spending patterns vary.

More than half the Canadians who travelled to the US last summer plan to go again this summer. One third of the travellers planning a trip to the US are over 55 – or perhaps it would be ‘hipper’ to say “two thirds of the travellers planning to travel Stateside are under 55.”

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So, let’s round up

Overall, outbound summer travel looks promising with travel intentions higher than in previous years. Many overseas destinations are expected to perform well with new capacity in Europe and Asia supporting growth, and older Canadians and the Canadian immigrant population boosting overseas travel.

However, plans to vacation in the US are down, though arrivals in some states are similar to last year and growth in non-auto travel is boosting numbers.

Economic growth is expected in the key geographic markets of Ontario, Quebec and BC, and the summer outlook is a positive 3.6 percent growth in overseas travel and a ‘better than last year’ forecast of 0.07 percent for Canadian visitation to the United States.

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