TORONTO — So many millions of marketing dollars are poured into attracting international travellers to Canada, it’s easy to forget that 80% of travel in Canada is by Canadians.
And while most Canadians rely on their travel agent for trip bookings outside the country, rather than within Canada, many Canadians are looking to book special trips in Canada this year to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary and are on the lookout for unique vacation ideas that require an agent’s expertise.
At yesterday’s Best Western Leisure Travel Summit, industry representatives weighed in on how the busy summer travel season is shaping up for both inbound and domestic travel in this landmark year. So much is riding on the Canada 150 celebrations. Can they live up to the hype?
Dorothy Dowling, Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, says that while Best Western has seen 2.4% in this market, most inbound tour operators and wholesalers she’s spoken to are reporting record years so far, “with very high double-digit growth for inbound travel”.
Last year was very close to a record year for Canadian tourism, with some 20 million visitors.
“Canada is topping a lot of must-visit lists. There’s a lot of buzz. We haven’t hit high season yet but we’re expecting it to be a really good year,” said Charlotte Bell, President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC).
Is it the Trump effect? In addition to all the excitement about Canada’s 150th anniversary, are international travellers deciding it’s time for a little Canada rather than risk what they might see as a less-than-warm welcome in the U.S.?
Dowling says it’s mostly a cost – and currency – issue. “It has a lot to do with the currency valuation and the strength of the U.S. dollar. So many international travellers book their travel to Canada as a package and the conversion factor is extraordinarily noticeable this year. There are a lot of conversations about politics but it really comes down to cost and money.” Compared to the U.S. these days, Canada is a bargain.
However Susie Grynol, President of the Hotel Association of Canada, said HAC’s annual Travel Intentions Survey showed that 35% of Canadian travellers who switched their travel plans from the U.S. to Canada attributed that decision as a direct result of President Trump’s election and his government’s policies.
Well over half (58%) of Canadian travellers say they’re planning to take 2 – 4 trips this year, a 7% increase, added Grynol.
While Canadian hotels are reaping the benefits from this year’s travel boom – properties in Alberta and Newfoundland are charting growth for the first time in three years – sharing economy disruptors like Airbnb continue to be a thorn in the side of the hotel industry.
“People renting out their basement and making some money, that’s a great thing. But we’re also seeing the emergence of commercial players, who buy entire buildings and rent out the units on Airbnb. When you’re dealing with that size and scale, you’re running a hotel, aren’t you? But it’s an illegal hotel.”
HAC and other hotel associations have long argued that Airbnb and other sharing economy rental companies need to be subject to the same taxes and standards as traditional hotels. “We just want a level playing field … [and then] we’re happy to compete.”
Also at the event, Laurel Greatrix, Director, Communications at TripAdvisor, said that while searches for Canada are up this year on TripAdvisor.com, long-time favourite sun and fun destinations are also strong, from Cuba and the D.R. to Las Vegas. Also popping up are ‘new’ destinations like Colombia, and more niche (relatively speaking) spots like South Africa. Both offer good value for money right now, says Greatrix. Travel this summer “is all about making the Canadian dollar work hard for you and finding value.”
Also trending: learning holidays. “About 15% of Millennials have taken a learning holiday and I think we’ll see more of those experiential trips,” said Greatrix. “It can be anything from surf holidays in Bali to sushi making classes in Tokyo.”
There are now 500 million reviews on TripAdvisor.com. Reviews on everything from travel to consumer goods have changed the way people shop, she noted. “Travel reviews offer transparency. And travel reviews mean travellers can spend smartly.” TripAdvisor users post nearly 300 reviews per minute, she said. Some 390 million people come to TripAdvisor to check out reviews.