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Profiling the Canadian traveller: What they want, where they’re going, and...

Profiling the Canadian traveller: What they want, where they’re going, and who they’re booking with

Monday, April 23, 2018

TORONTO — ‘Knowing your customer’ is probably the #1 rule in sales. Whether you’re selling cars, homes or vacation packages, understanding what your clients want and need is essential when closing the sale and building customer loyalty. For travel agents, this means knowing where Canadians are travelling, how they’re booking, when they’re booking, and what they’re doing when they get to their end destination.

According to Development Counsellors International (DCI), which recently released the study ‘Capturing the Canadian Consumer: Insights into the Path to Purchase for Canadian Travelers’, learning the ins and outs of Canadian booking and travel habits only benefits agents in the long run. As stated in its report, Canadians spend an estimated $35 billion on outbound travel annually, which translates into more bookings and more commissions for agents.

“Canadians are an important market due to their prioritization of international travel, their spending power and the sheer size of the market,” Robyn Domber, Vice President, Research tells Travelweek. “In our opinion, Canadians have always valued travel and this has been a constant over the past 15 years and beyond.”

Domber adds: “International trips often represent bucket-list trips and travellers want to make sure they’re making the most of their trip and protecting their investment. Travel agents can be a vital resource in this respect.”

Here are the top takeaways from DCI’s report:

Time of year doesn’t matter

The report included findings of a survey of 1,505 Canadians, of which 22% said they didn’t care what time of year they travel. Another 39% of respondents said that their trips typically take place during the first six months of the year, while the remaining balance (37%) preferred to travel in the second half.

Respondents from Manitoba and Saskatchewan are more likely to travel between January and March versus residents of other provinces, indicating that an escape from cold weather is a prime motivator for travelling internationally.

Canadians have their favourites

Regardless of province of residence, the United States is the most frequently considered – and visited – country for Canadians. This is followed by the Caribbean and Europe, with remaining destinations garnering less interest.

“When you look at the top outbound destinations for Canadians, the top three countries – U.S., Mexico and the United Kingdom – in 2016 are exactly the same as the top three countries for outbound travel among Canadians in 2001,” said Domber. “That being said, Canadians are also more willing to explore ‘emerging’ destinations, and one example of this is Cuba.”

According to Domber, Cuba rose to the third most popular outbound market for Canadians (displacing the U.K.) in 2009, and has stayed in the top five since then.

Canadians have tremendous spending power

Canada ranks sixth among all countries in international tourism expenditures, which makes Canadians extremely appealing to international destinations. But perhaps more importantly, there is clear evidence that Canadians are much more likely to travel internationally versus their American counterparts.

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Approximately 67% of Canadians have a valid passport compared to only 46% of the U.S. population. This enables nearly 13 million Canadians to take leisure trips (of five nights or more) outside of Canada in the past three years.

Canadians love travelling so much that not even an economic downturn can deter them. During the global crisis in 2008/2009, outbound leisure travel from Canada declined by only 1.3%, compared to 7.5% in the U.S.

Canadians love to travel with family

At 46%, family vacations are the clear favourite type of international leisure vacation during the past 24 months among outbound Canadian travellers. Beach and Romance trips rounded out the top three.

“In addition to prioritizing travel, it was very clear through our research that Canadians prioritize time spent with family,” added Domber. “Family travel was the most popular type of travel reported, so even during economic downturns Canadians view travel as an opportunity to reconnect with family away from daily demands of life.”

With who and how much? More than half (54%) of respondents are travelling internationally with only a spouse or partner, with 21% travelling with their kids. One in 10 are travelling alone, particularly those between 18 and 34 years old (14%), while 75% of respondents over the age of 65 travel internationally with a spouse or partner.

And how much are Canadians spending while on vacation? On average, Canadian travellers spent $3,985 on their last international leisure trip, with the greatest expense being accommodations at an average of $1,371.

What Canadians value most, by age

“Canadian travellers report that quality accommodations (91%), value for money (89%), and interesting attractions (88%) top the list of important factors overall,” said Bomber, also noting how agents can serve as valuable third party sources on identifying destinations that meet these criteria during the planning and booking phase.

Those over the age of 45 place high value on the friendliness of the local population, while those under 45 thought family friendliness and outdoor adventure experiences are more important. Millennials (under 35), more than any other generation, are concerned with sharing their experience on social media as well as local festivals and celebrations. They also value shopping more than quality accommodations.

Respondents under 65 years old are much more likely to be interested in beaches (63%), outdoor recreation (43%), and amusement parks (25%), while those over 45 are more likely to be interested in touring a historic site (64%) or a museum (43%).

When are Canadians booking?

Long-haul trips have the longest planning lead times, with more than 43% beginning research at least six months in advance. Once a destination has been selected, travellers then turn their attention to booking airfare and accommodations.

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Most respondents book airfare closer to their departure date (six months ahead or less), with far fewer booking six months or more in advance. Booking airfare more than a year in advance is virtually unheard of nowadays.

For car trips and short-haul destinations, the greatest percentage book less than three months in advance.

The Air Canada factor

While Air Canada has the largest market share in Canada, research shows that Canadians are willing to exchange this trust and convenience with other carriers if it means a significant cost savings. Six in 10 respondents are somewhat or very likely to travel to destinations even if they are not serviced by Air Canada.

How are Canadians booking?

There are essentially three main ways respondents booked their last international leisure trips: with the provider directly (36%), via an online travel agent (29%), or via a traditional travel agent (25%). Those over 45 (40%), as well as those making at least $200,000 or more per year (46%) were more likely to have booked directly through the provider. Conversely, those making less than $200,000 per year (27%) were more likely to have used a physical travel agent.

The Travel Agent effect

Canadian travellers are more likely to first turn to general Internet searches when researching a trip, followed by family and friends and online travel reviews.

In both the planning phase and once a trip has been booked, travel guidebooks and travel agents tend to be relied upon more heavily by those over the age of 65, while social media tends to be used far more often by those under 45 years of age. Residents in Quebec are also more likely to rely on travel guidebooks and travel agents versus residents of other provinces.

Said Domber: “As long-haul travel can be more expensive, longer in duration and potentially involve multiple destinations in one trip, the use of a travel agents to help book and offer a point of contact if something goes wrong on the trip may be important to this population.”

Cindy Sosroutomo

Cindy Sosroutomo

Deputy Editor at Travelweek
Cindy is Deputy Editor at Travelweek and has worked for the company since 2007. She has travelled to more than 50 countries and counts Kenya, Morocco, Thailand and Turkey among her favourite destinations.
Cindy Sosroutomo
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