28 JAN 2019: Canadians love Britain, by almost any metric. Start with 2017 numbers: 835,000 Canadians visited Britain, which was 1 percent more compared to the year before but 150,000 more than 2010. And in 2018 those figures were expected to break that threshold, setting a new record.

Then there’s the US comparison. According to VisitBritain, one out of four Canadian travellers visited Britain in 2017, compared to one out of 99 US travellers.

“We did the math,” says VisitBritain executive VP for the Americas, Gavin Landry. “Obviously, the US is a lot larger [and produces more overall visitors], but still, on a per capita basis, that’s a pretty significant propensity to travel.”

Landry believes one reason is “because Canada has such an affinity and close relationship as a Commonwealth country,” adding, “I think it’s the only country that still celebrates Victoria Day.”

The VisitBritain exec has noticed the connection first-hand. “I was in Toronto [recently] and I kept looking around and going, my god, everything around here reminds me of, or smacks of, Great Britain – street names, etc. It was an homage to Britain in my way of thinking.”

Of course, VisitBritain doesn’t rest its prospects based simply on street names, and the tourist board recently conducted research that helped form the basis for its new “I Travel For” branding, which has been customized for Canada through six “passion points” that inspire Canadian travel to Britain, and around which it is building product and promotions: Culture (art & design, museums, galleries, theatre), Local Flavours (local food and drink), Meet the Locals (local people, living history, storytellers), the Unexpected (adventure, festivals, beyond the icons & landmarks), Landscape (countryside, coastline) and Discoveries (off the beaten track).

Indeed, VisitBritain has a wealth of data on its Canadian visitors. Some of the key demographic data includes:

• Purpose of travel: 45% VFR; 37% holiday; 10% business; 8% miscellaneous

• Seasonality: 16% Jan-March; 29% April-June; 34% July-Sept.; 21% Oct.-Dec.

• Gateways (based on non-stop scheduled flights from Canada): London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow

• Where we go: 55% London, 49% rest of England, 14% Scotland, 3% Wales.

• Who is going: 22% 45-54; 19% 25-44; 15% 55-64; 14% 65+; 9% 16-24

• Where they’re from: 48% Ont.; 19% BC; 10% Alta.; 9% Que.

• Travel companions: 54% with partner/spouse; 20% on their own; 18% with children; 14% with friends; 12% with other adult family members

• Average length of stay: 10 nights

• Booking habits: 53% direct with supplier; 32% online travel agent; 15% traditional travel agent

• Top influencers: word of mouth, online search, price comparison on web sites

The data also delves into what Canadians do when visiting Britain. The top three reasons to visit are: cultural attractions, wide variety of places to visit, and security and safety. Top activities: Dining in restaurants (74%), shopping (53%), sightseeing (50%), going to the pub (47%) and visiting parks & gardens (43%).

As such, VB identifies priority markets in Canada as “explorers,” who like to go to places that are off the beaten track as well as visit attractions at a relaxed pace; and “buzzseekers” – trendsetters who are seeking out new experiences and always looking for action and excitement.

Sheelagh Wylie, chief marketing officer, Americas, for VisitBritain, points out that Britain is ideal for first-time visitors to Europe.

“It’s a perfect place to start, especially for families,” she says.

“Speaking English, you’re getting a different experience, but it’s easy. I think for Canadians, they feel kind of familiar there. There’s a big VFR component to it: those people who emigrated two generations ago, it’s their kids who are coming back and they’re coming back as visitors, but they feel an affinity for it; they’re going to places outside London if that’s where their family is from, but then staying longer and travelling around the country. We think Canadians are more apt to rent a car and drive around than Americans.”

Landry agrees that for English-speakers, the British experience is unparalleled. “You can engage the locals much more and be enriched by your experience with them,” he says. “If you speak French, or Spanish, or Italian, it’s a different type of experience – more or a voyeuristic experience, kind of looking at the culture from a distance. You can appreciate it, but at not in the same way.

“I remember from my own experience,” he continues, “I went to Loch Ness and met a captain who had a big beard; he looks like he’s typecast like a Scottish fisherman – we couldn’t stop talking about the guy. And he has such a thick accent, it was such a cool engaged experience.”

And that, says Landry, is the kind of authenticity that visitors – including Canadians – “seem to be looking for!” And, in Britain, he says, they will find it in spades.

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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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