Garibaldi Lake near Whistler, BC, Canada

Canada is tops for travellers post-COVID: Travelweek’s Consumer Survey

TORONTO — Canada has moved to the top of bucket lists for Canadian travellers once travel restrictions are lifted, according to new findings from Travelweek’s recent COVID-19 Consumer Survey.

Launched in partnership with Star Metroland and garnering close to 3,000 responses from consumers across Canada, the survey found that an overwhelming 42.7% of respondents would travel within Canada first if global travel resumed tomorrow. Trailing behind were Mexico/Caribbean/South America at 20.5%, and Europe with 13.3% of responses.

Faced with such challenges as the ongoing pandemic, mandatory quarantines both in destination and upon their return home and the lack of COVID-related travel insurance, more and more Canadians are choosing holidays at home in the near future over travels abroad. This is welcome news to local tour operators that offer authentic Canadian experiences from coast to coast.

“Canada is a big place and many Canadians don’t know where to start looking or what experiences are even available to them,” says Alex Ross, CEO of Fresh Adventures, which specializes in Canada adventure tours and offers everything from guided hiking in B.C. and camping tours in the Rockies, to backpacking tours in the Coast Mountains and snowboarding around the Powder Highway. “The best part about selling Canada, is that Canada is really one of the most incredible destinations on the planet.”

Noting how the majority of the company’s bookings are from international travellers, Ross is looking to now increase its domestic share, which he says already accounts for a decent portion of guests.

“I know there is a stigma that North Americans are less inclined to be guided, but in my experience they just don’t realize how much more they can experience with a local who specialized in helping them discover what they never thought possible,” he adds.

While domestic tourism is expected to rise in the aftermath of the pandemic, the cruise industry is facing more of an uphill battle in its recovery. According to survey results, 76% of respondents said they would be hesitant to take a cruise vacation once travel restrictions are lifted, while out of a list of travel styles and travel products, 27.6% said they anticipate avoiding large-ship cruises and 15.3% would avoid small-ship and river cruises post-COVID-19.

However, Vanessa Lee, President of Cruise Strategies Ltd. is hopeful that small-ship and river cruising will gain some traction by the end of the summer.

“The American rivers should be one of the first segments in cruise to start sailing again, and I am hopeful that later in the summer, possibly very late July or early August, we may see some river cruise companies sailing a few ships in Europe,” she tells Travelweek.

However, with the Canadian government’s recent decision to extend the ban on cruise ships in Canadian waters to at least Oct. 31, cruisers won’t be able to sail the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence any time soon. But, as Lee says, it’ll be all in due time.

“Overall, I see a very careful and thoughtful phased reopening, with just a few ships from any particular fleet being able to sail. And when those vessels do sail, it will be with less guests than regular capacity,” she says.

In order to feel safe enough to travel again, 47% of survey respondents said they would want to see increased levels of cleanliness for airplanes, hotels, cruise ships and rental cars, while 26% said improved ventilation systems onboard cruise ships would be a preferred precautionary measure.

Lee notes that cruise ships are already “extremely safe” to begin with, with each line conducting “excellent” sanitation protocols. They will, however, be ramping up their efforts in light of the pandemic, paying careful attention to things like space ratio per guest.

“Bear in mind in all of global travel and tourism, the cruise industry is the only one that has to report to the CDC, so it sometimes receives more negative press than deserved,” says Lee. “Most cruise lines are reporting great interest in 2021 sailings across the board and in some instances, at least 50% of those bookings are new guests and not those using a future cruise credit. I would have zero concern about going back on a ship and hope to do so in August, assuming they sail.”