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Travel and tourism

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Tourism is increasing worldwide with interest in a number of niche markets, including seniors, solo travellers, gay and lesbian tourists, and travellers with pets. New experience-based products—wilderness adventures, ecotourism, educational tours, and spa and wellness retreats—provide even greater choice. And Internet travel planning and booking is revolutionizing the industry.

Though worldwide tourism continues to grow, a series of extraordinary events has greatly affected the industry, starting with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Iraq conflict, the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis, the discovery of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) and various natural disasters were just a few situations that Canadian tourism faced in the past few years.

For many, 2003 was considered one of the worst years ever for tourism. Travel within Canada by Canadians fell 8.3% to 172.2 million trips after reaching a six-year high of 187.9 million trips in 2002. Travel to Canada by international visitors dropped 13.3% as well.

Tourism growing

Chart: Tourism spending in CanadaWhen reviewing longer trends, however, the Canadian tourism industry has proven to be very resilient. A Canadian Tourism Commission study shows that from 1986 to 2001, tourism expenditures increased 3.2% annually, a level considerably higher than the 2.7% average annual increase in gross domestic product (GDP). During the same period, 152,700 new tourism jobs were created, again at a rate substantially higher than the average for overall business employment. The tourism industry employed 615,200 Canadians in 2004.

Tourism is not an industry in the traditional definition, but rather an activity that takes place across a number of different industries. To get a sense of the overall Canadian tourism picture, data mainly from the transportation, accommodation and food and beverage industries need to be reviewed. In total, Canada's tourism GDP reached $24 billion in 2004, and tourism employment comprised more than 3.6% of the labour force.

Transportation: In 2004, nearly 60 million passengers passed through Canada’s airports, nearly equal to the peak of 60 million in 2000. The busiest airports include Toronto with 26.8 million passengers, Vancouver with 14.2 million, and Montréal (Trudeau) with 9.3 million. Trains carried four million passengers, up 2.3% from 2003. Ferry traffic was estimated at 39 million passengers, and cruise traffic at 1.4 million.

Accommodation: Though total establishments decreased from 16,355 in 2003 to 15,613 in 2004, the accommodation industry had higher revenues than the previous year Hotel occupancy rates increased to 63% in 2004, a notable jump from 59% in 2003, which was one of the worst years for the hotel industry.

Food and beverage: Total operating revenues for the food services and drinking places industries grew 7% in 2004 to $37.7 billion. The operating profit margins for food services and drinking places slightly increased from 3.2% in 2003 to 3.6% in 2004.

Snowbirds, shoppers and other Canadian travellers

Chart: Travel services, active establishments, 2003Since 1998, more than four million Canadians annually have travelled to overseas destinations (that is, countries other than the United States). This trend has grown almost continuously: overnight trips to overseas destinations increased more than 50% in the last 10 years, with a high of 5.7 million trips reached in 2004.

In 2004, the top five most visited overseas countries (in order) were the United Kingdom, Mexico, France, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Overnight visits to the Caribbean were up 17% from 2003. And spending by Canadian travellers was also up overseas, reaching a record $8.8 billion.

Although the number of Canadians travelling to the United States was up slightly from 2003 to 2004, travel has declined more than 15% since 1998, with most of the decline attributed to a drop in same-day trips (2004).

Canadians also took 175.1 million trips exploring their own country. The vast majority of these trips were within their home province—an astounding 88% of all trips made by Canadians in Canada (2004). Pleasure trips (67.6 million) and trips made to visit friends or relatives (62.8 million) represented 75% of all these domestic trips.

International tourism

Chart: International travel to CanadaTravel from overseas nations into Canada rose substantially in 2004 following three consecutive annual declines. The number of overnight trips to Canada from destinations other than the United States increased 24% to more than 3.9 million. Overseas visitors spent $5.4 billion, up 22%. Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, St Catharines–Niagara and Québec (in that order) were the main tourism hot spots for overseas visitors in 2004.

The most tourists to Canada came from the United Kingdom, followed by Japan, France, Germany and Australia. But all overseas regions registered increases in the number of overnight trips to Canada. The strongest increase was from Asia, including Japan (57%), Taiwan (56%) and Hong Kong (32%).

Overnight travel from the United States to Canada also rose. Pleasure trips, which accounted for 55% of all overnight trips, experienced the largest increase (13%), while business trips rose 1%. American spending on overnight trips in Canada increased 12% to $8.2 billion.

An area to watch is the emerging pleasure travel market from China. If the Chinese government grants ‘approved destination status’to Canada, the number of Chinese tourists could increase considerably..