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2003: A bad year for tourism

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Canada’s natural beauty and popular attractions have long made it one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations—and that means income for Canada’s tourism industry. So when events occur that make travel less attractive, Canada is particularly affected. In 2003, lingering fears from September 11, the Iraq conflict and the unexpected SARS outbreak in Canada all combined to dampen tourism worldwide—making that year one of the most painful in recent memory for Canada’s tourism industry.

The largest single drop in tourism over the past two decades occurred in 2001, with Asian and North American travellers in particular accounting for a large part of the overall decline. When the Iraq conflict began in March 2003 and the SARS outbreak hit its peak in April and May, the tourism industry—especially in Toronto and Vancouver—was hit hard.

By May 2003, the total number of trips to Canada from overseas countries excluding the United States tumbled 33% from the previous year. Travel from Asia between April and May 2003 alone dropped 32%, likely because of the SARS epidemic.

Visits from Taiwan suffered the biggest decline, plunging nearly 94% from December 2002 to May 2003. Trips from Japan, China, Hong Kong and South Korea were down anywhere from 40% to 73%. All these countries had been on Canada’s list of top-12 overseas tourism markets in December 2002.

Travel to Canada did not rebound until 2004. That year, Canada registered 1.3 million trips from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries, up from 923,000 in 2003. Moreover, spending by travellers from these countries also increased, from $1.2 billion in 2003 to $1.6 billion in 2004.