Canadians continue to flock to U.S. border airports: HAC survey

Canadians continue to flock to U.S. border airports: HAC surveyTORONTO — The latest survey from the Hotel Association of Canada shows that more than five million Canadians flew out of U.S. border airports in 2013.

“Until we get the cost of travel down, people are going to cross the border to get a cheaper airline ticket,” said HAC President Tony Pollard.

The Canadian government is listening “but not as much as I would like,” he added. Pollard was part of a panel discussion at yesterday’s eighth annual Best Western Business Travel Summit.

Asked about ancillary fees, Pollard said Canadians face travel costs that are up to 30% higher than U.S. travellers, and ancillary fees “are a crucial part of that equation.”

While airlines have been raking it in with ancillary fees, hotels are feeling consumer pressure to offer free value-adds like complimentary breakfast and WiFi, according to the panel.

Resort fees are similar to the airlines’ ancillary fees, but resort fees have become “more transparent,” said Best Western Senior Vice-President, Marketing & Sales, Dorothy Dowling. She added that “very few Best Westerns charge them”.

The HAC study shows that 77% of Canadian business travellers want free WiFi and 69% want a free breakfast with their hotel stay.

The HAC study also indicates that loyalty programs are still rising in importance. In 2007, 19% of HAC survey respondents said loyalty programs were important to them. Now that number is 57%.

Pollard also points out that year in, year out, in an open-response survey question, the number one quality business travellers are looking for in a hotel is friendly service. The latest survey shows 79% of business travellers prize friendly service at their hotel above all else.

About 25% of respondents said that social media figures into their travel decisions.

Two factors – the weather and the falling loonie – have impacted travel plans over the past few months. While the rise and fall of the loonie doesn’t affect business travel as much as leisure travel, said Brian Robertson, COO, Vision Travel Solutions, the stormy winter weather seen in much of Canada and the U.S. northeast is another story.

“Weather has a major impact. It increases the cost of travel and the cost of doing business. People are missing flights and failing to pick up rental cars. At Vision Travel Solutions, it means we’re open 24/7 to help our clients. It’s increased our costs as well.”

Weather and currency fluctuations aside, the business travel environment is “very robust” in Canada and Best Western has seen “very encouraging” results in the first quarter of 2014, says Dowling.

Best Western’s research shows that Canadians travel further afield, book further in advance and cancel less often.

Best Western, with more than 4,000 hotels in some 100 countries, recently partnered with Google Maps to capture interior pictures of Best Western properties, a project that should be complete by the end of 2014.

Asked about marketing strategies for 2014 and beyond, Dowling said that SEO (search engine optimization) is crucial. “You have to buy branded search with Google. Consumers expect that if you have a brand name, you better lead in paid search.”

The latest edition of the HAC survey is expected to be posted at hotelassociation.ca in the next few days.