The Daily
 In the news  Indicators  Releases by subject
 Special interest  Release schedule  Information

National Travel Survey, fourth quarter 2020

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

Released: 2021-05-26


Canadians took fewer trips both within Canada and abroad (-50.9%) in the fourth quarter of 2020, compared with the same quarter in 2019. Because of this, tourism spending was down 70.1% year over year. This fourth quarter decline was mostly driven by less travel within Canada, as domestic trips in Canada dropped by 28 million.

The 6 million fewer trips abroad by Canadians (-94.0%) coincided with tighter travel restrictions. Spending by Canadians abroad fell by 85.5% during the quarter.

More recent data on international travel by Canadian residents are available from the monthly "Travel between Canada and other countries."

Advisories continue and restrictions tighten

In 2020, travel was the first and hardest-hit sector of the economy as a result of restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The first quarter was stunted by the mid-March pandemic declaration. Effective March 16, the Canadian government closed its international border to non-Canadian citizens and permanent residents and then, on March 21, the Canada-US border was closed to non-essential travel.

As a result, travel during the second quarter came to a near standstill. While some public health restrictions were eased in the third quarter, travel restrictions remained in effect and were tightened in many provinces, resulting in a lacklustre fourth quarter.

The advisory for Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada has remained in effect since the start of the pandemic.

Domestic travel curtailed

Canadians made 34.4 million domestic trips in the fourth quarter, down 44.9% year over year. The number of same-day trips decreased by 43.4% to 24.4 million from the same three months—October to December—of 2019, while the number of overnight trips declined by 48.3% to 10.0 million.

Spending on these domestic trips fell to $4.8 billion from $11.6 billion year over year. Average spending declined from $185 per trip to $140 year-over-year, with Canadians spending $86 per same-day trip and $273 per overnight trip in the fourth quarter.

The largest spending component—spending on vehicle operations, such as the cost of gasoline—was $1.3 billion during the quarter, down 43.2% year over year. With fewer overnight trips, spending on accommodation, the second largest expense category, declined 55.8% to $893.7 million. Spending on entertainment (down 87.1% to $52.6 million) and transportation such as local transit (down 84.3% to $255.2 million) recorded the largest percentage declines.

With public health restrictions in effect, spending in restaurants and bars was also down 68.2% to $623.8 million, compared with the fourth quarter of 2019.

Although down 59.4% from the same quarter of 2019, visiting friends and relatives (11.7 million trips) was the main trip purpose for more than one-third of the domestic trips in the fourth quarter.

Holidays, leisure or recreation was down 35.4% year over year, at 11.3 million trips. Finally, domestic travel for business-related purposes, including attending conferences, conventions or trade shows, fell 44.7% to 3.5 million trips.

Travel to the United States dwindles

With the land border restricted to essential trips, travel to the United States by Canadian residents in the fourth quarter of 2020 declined to 307,500 trips from 6.3 million trips during 2019. Canadian residents spent $934.4 million while in the United States during the fourth quarter, down from $5.1 billion spent a year earlier.

Although down 91.9% in the fourth quarter, most Canadian residents travelled to the United States for other personal reasons such as attending non-business conferences, conventions, trades or shopping (110,600 trips).

As expected, holidays, leisure or recreation trips declined, dropping 96.5% to 103,000, while business-related travel plunged 92.2% to 53,000 trips. Visits to friends or family were down 97.0% to 40,800 trips during the fourth quarter.

Canadians spent an average of $3,038 per trip in the United States during the fourth quarter, up from $811 during the same quarter of 2019.

The two largest expenditure categories for Canadians travelling within the United States during the fourth quarter both fell sharply. Spending on accommodation declined by 87.7% year over year to $230.0 million, while spending in restaurants and bars declined by 78.8% to $219.4 million.

Fewer Canadians travel overseas

Canadian residents returned from 212,600 trips to countries other than the United States during the fourth quarter of 2020, down 91.0% compared to the period of October to December in 2019.

With fewer trips, the $367.5 million spent overseas by travellers in the fourth quarter of 2020 was less than one-tenth the amount spent in 2019 ($3.8 billion).

Those that did travel spent more, however, as spending on overseas trips averaged $1,728 per trip in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from $1,604 per trip in 2019.

Spending on restaurants and bars fell 86.1% to $119.3 million, spending on accommodation declined by 96.5% to $58.9 million and spending in stores during travel declined by 79.3% to $29.3 million.

Canadians made 133,100 overseas trips (or 62.6% of the total) in the fourth quarter to visit friends or relatives, down 80.2% year over year, but still the most common reason for travel. Canadian residents took 62,000 overseas trips for holiday, leisure or recreation in the fourth quarter, down 95.6% year over year.

  Note to readers

The National Travel Survey (NTS) collects information about the domestic and international travel of Canadian residents. The NTS replaces the Travel Survey of Residents of Canada and the Canadian resident component of the International Travel Survey, but is not comparable with either.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, collection of the NTS was suspended from April to June 2020, so the preliminary data for the second quarter of 2020 will be available at a later date.

Starting with this release, the above analysis is now based on a measure of total domestic visit-expenditures that includes commercial air expenditures and expenditures incurred at the point of origin of the trip.

The target population is the civilian, non-institutionalized population aged 18 and older in Canada's provinces, excluding people living on Indian reserves and in the territories. Routine trips taken by commuters and diplomatic or military personnel are out of scope.

Domestic trips are made by travellers residing in Canada who travelled inside Canada for a period of less than 12 months before returning to their place of residence.

Same-day trips or visits take place within the same calendar day—that is, the traveller left and returned home on the same day—and must be a distance of 40 km or more away (one way).

Trips abroad are made by travellers residing in Canada who travelled outside Canada for a period of less than 12 months before returning to Canada. Foreign citizens who are residing in Canada and travel abroad are included as Canadian resident travellers.

A trip abroad for people residing in Canada starts when they cross the border to exit Canada and ends when they first re-enter Canada.

Trips and visits: A trip can consist of one or more visits. A Canadian traveller on a trip abroad may cross into several countries or US states before being recorded as having re-entered Canada. Each of these crossings represents a visit. Similarly, a Canadian resident travelling in Canada may stay in several locations during their trip. Each stay at a Canadian location (for example, a province) within a given trip represents a visit.


Data from the fourth quarter of 2020 from the National Travel Survey are now available. Other tables, including statistical profiles of Canadian travellers, are available upon request.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

Date modified: