"Every day, we receive more good news," said Susan Webb, president of Discover America Canada, as an audience of trade partners gathered on Thursday (November 18) at the organization's two-part Ready, Set, Go - Where are we now? virtual event, where guest speakers presented mid-pandemic consumer insights and travel trends.
The first part of the conference featured virtual breakout rooms with six destinations that had a lot to share: Visit Florida, Utah Office of Tourism, Myrtle Beach Area CVB, Massachusetts Travel and Tourism, Virginia Tourism, and Explore Georgia - all expressed their excitement to welcome back Canadians since the border re-opened on Nov. 8.
Webb's 'good news' remark referenced the government's announcement on November 17 that short trips of less than 72 hours will not require PCR tests, which is expected to take effect at the end of the month, just in time for holiday shopping.
More promising news followed as the Conference Board of Canada's senior research associate, Jennifer Hendry shared the board's latest quarterly travel intention survey results.
Winter travel intentions improving
Fifty per cent of Canadian respondents plan to take a leisure trip between November 2021 and April 2022, which is significantly higher than last winter when only 36 per cent expressed positive intentions for travel, Hendry said.
Despite being half what they were a year ago, outbound intentions have doubled since then, so the trajectory seems to be moving in the right direction.
The uncertainty in the market is receding
Six in ten Canadians didn't plan a trip last year, primarily due to factors related to the pandemic.
One year later, less than half of Canadians plan no travel or are unsure about their plans.
Overall, the uncertainty in the market is receding and the share of undecided is similar to what it was before the pandemic.
COVID-related travel barriers
86 per cent of Canadians miss travelling and they are eager to get back to it but there are still barriers for the travellers to navigate.
COVID-related factors are still the primary travel deterrent but the share pointing to this barrier has declined (22 percent for the current season versus 42 per cent a year ago).
Entry requirements including pre-arrival and pre-departure testing are now the top travel barrier for 22 percent, a larger share than previously reported.
Travel intentions influenced by four themes
Four key themes are influencing travel intentions, Hendry said.
- Personal connections - A higher share of respondents compared to previous seasons is planning to travel specifically to visit friends and family.
- Proximity- Canadian travellers are familiar with places in the U.S. and are feeling more confident about outbound activities. The report indicates that flight capacity is returning and air travel has been deemed relatively safe compared to other activities due to the protocols available from airlines and their partners.
- Pandemic management - Canadians are becoming more accepting of and more comfortable with the health protocols over the last year and a half.
- Price – Data shows that many Canadians built up their savings in 2020 due to closures and lockdowns but the pandemic changed spending patterns for many households and consumers are saying that they will increase their spending on experiences like tourism going forward.
Travellers adapting to a new normal
When asked about factors positively influencing their willingness to take a trip, flexible change in cancellation policies was identified as having the most impact for three-quarters of respondents (versus 56 per cent in January 2021).
Booking flexibility followed by the number of COVID cases globally as well as the use of an official proof of vaccination document.
Compared to the beginning of the year when much the world was battling an upsurge in positive cases, infection rates have declined. 71 percent now say they are likely to book an international trip based on the number of cases globally. It’s almost triple what the share was in January 2021, and this suggests an increased perception of a waning pandemic or at least acceptance of the new normal in order to travel once again.
In addition, for six in 10 travellers, the vaccination rate in their destination and the implementation of health protocols (i.e., face coverings, physical distancing) are still key factors that are positively impacting their willingness to book.
Canadians are also more accepting of test requirements to visit another country than they are of a need to present a negative test to return home.
About a quarter say neither impacts their willingness to travel internationally but more say that Canada’s testing requirements influence their likelihood to book compared to the testing in other countries.
Canadians feeling safer about transborder flights
Once they do feel comfortable travelling internationally again, 36 per cent of respondents said they’re most likely to take a transborder trip first.
Canadian demand for U.S. destinations lost momentum in Q3 but is recently back on the rise after the announcement of US border re-opening.
But the report shows that demand for Mexico and the Caribbean have increased, which suggests that there has been some transfer of demand as entry rules ease in some destinations quicker than they are in the U.S.
A few shifts this winter
Overall, the research points to a lot of optimism in the market, but there’s still some uncertainty as well.
The Conference Board of Canada expects that travel confidence will only continue to increase throughout the latter half of the season and that will definitely prompt more activity.
"Our current projection suggests activity this winter for transborder trips will amount to 40 to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic volume, better than the 5 per cent activity we saw last winter,” said Hendry. “It's not a tidal wave of travellers by any means but activity is finally beginning to recover It’s good news across the board.”
More travellers intend to fly to their destinations (two-thirds), which is encouraging given that air carriers are reporting 7 million direct seats available versus 10 million pre-pandemic in 2018/2019.
Snowbird indicators and trends
There is currently a larger share of older travellers with the U.S. in their travel plans.
Most respondents are snowbirds and close to half of the trips are planned for November and December 2021.
President of Snowbird Advisor, Stephen Fine, said many positive indicators are visible in the snowbird market.
Updates were based on the June 23, 2021 survey of Snowbird Advisor members when 92 per cent of snowbird respondents shared that they would be travelling, subsequent feedback and inquiries from snowbirds, and travel insurance sales volume.
Interest in travel insurance by snowbirds has spiked since the U.S. announced the land border would open, including the U.S. acceptance of AstraZeneca and mixed dose vaccines.
“This year, we are going to see an almost full recovery for the snowbird season and that’s something we’ve been anticipating for a while that the snowbird demographic would be one of the fastest demographics to recover when it comes to travel,” said Fine.
Listening to what travellers want
"As we move into our new normal, we are starting to see some very important trends emerging which will be key when marketing travel,” shared Raina Williams, senior regional manager for Canada at Expedia Group.
Expedia’s travel recovery report uncovered that during Q3 there was more evidence of inclusion and diversity gaining attention in the travel space, which includes:
- 64 per cent of those surveyed said they took some sort of action after seeing an ad that they consider to be diverse or inclusive.
- 69 per cent of black consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a brand whose advertising positively reflects their race/ethnicity.
- 71 per cent of LGBTQ consumers said they were more likely to interact with an online ad that authentically represents their sexual orientation.
Nearly three in five travellers (59%) are willing to increase their spend to make the trip more sustainable.
The complete findings for the Q3 Travel Recovery Trends report can be found here.
2021 and beyond
As part of Discover America Canada’s media day this year, PAX joined a Zoom breakout session with some U.S. destinations and here’s what they had to share:
The Sunshine State’s latest attraction, the Baseball Museum, is now open to welcome fans to celebrate Tampa’s over 130 years of baseball heritage.
Meanwhile in Central Florida, the world’s first Peppa Pig Theme Park will open by February 24, 2022. And of course, Walt Disney World continues its 50th Anniversary celebrations between now and April 2023.
Visit Myrtle Beach
The destination’s “You belong at the beach," brand continues its quest to drive safe and responsible travel with visitors along the destination's 60 miles of Atlantic coastline.
As a long-term winter destination, Myrtle Beach offers a wide range of commissionable accommodations, from brand-name hotels to independent properties and beach houses to condo resorts.
CAN AM Days Savings promotion will soon begin from January to April 2022 offering Canadians only major savings from participating accommodations, attractions, restaurants, and more which will soon be posted here.
The “Virginia is for lovers” state will continue promoting its safe and responsible road trips as a major theme this year. These WanderLove road trips will also highlight outdoor recreation, hidden gems, small towns, and Virginia’s unique “roadside attraction” – LOVEworks.
A few new developments include the opening of the Capital One Center at Tysons Corner, a new performing arts center that features local theatre performances and world-renowned concerts; Pantheon roller coaster at Busch Gardens, and the “boats and goats” rides in Virginia Beach.