Published on: Sep 25, 2019
Statistics Canada has recently released the first set of data from its Visitor Travel Survey for 2019. This data covers the first quarter of 2019 and includes information on the number of visitors to Canada during this period, where they came from, why they visited, how long they stayed, how much they spent, and more. It's a vital tool for understanding the role of travel and tourism in Canada's economy, and the Q1 statistics paint an interesting picture of the importance of international visitors.
Compared to the first quarter of 2018, the number of foreign visitors in the first quarter of 2019 declined slightly, seeing a 0.6% reduction to 4.8 million visits. However, a closer look at visitor statistics reveals that different groups of travellers behaved quite differently during this period. The decline in trips resulted from a decrease in visitors to Canada from the US. As Canada's closest neighbour, the US accounts for the majority of its visitors, with travellers from America making up 3.8 million of the 4.8 million visits in the quarter. However, this figure represents a 1.4% decline from the same period in 2018. One possible explanation for this decline could be severe weather which affected both western and central Canada and the northwestern US during the winter months, making Americans less likely to travel.
By contrast, visitors to Canada from countries other than the US increased during this period. Travellers to Canada from overseas made 1 million trips in the first quarter of 2019, a 2.6% increase over the same period in 2018. Visitors came from a wide range of different countries, with the bulk coming from Asia and Oceania (446,000 trips) and Europe (385,000 trips). The top five countries were China, the United Kingdom, France, Mexico, and Australia, with India, Japan, and Germany also providing large numbers of visitors.
Although overseas visitors made up only 20.8% of travellers to Canada in the first quarter of 2019, they spent much more per trip, contributing $1.6 billion, more than half of the $3 billion spent by foreign travellers during this period. Compared to US visitors, overseas visitors stayed longer and spent much more, spending an average of $1,600 per trip compared to just $370 for US travellers. While the average US visitor stayed for only four nights, the average trip by an overseas visitor was 22 nights. As a result, visits by overseas travellers had a very high economic impact relative to their number.
Overseas visitors come to Canada for many different reasons, but the most common is to visit friends or relatives. Over a third of all visits by overseas travellers during this period were to visit friends or family. Tourism came second, with 277,000 trips being for pleasure or leisure. Travel for other personal reasons accounted for 187,000 trips, with business close behind at 176,000 trips. This pattern of travel differs from that of visitors from the United States; pleasure or leisure was the leading reason for visits to Canada from the US during this period, followed by business. Only 780,000 trips from the US -- around 20.5% of the total -- were to visit relatives or friends, although this number did represent an increase from the same period in 2018.
Ontario and British Columbia were the two provinces which earned the most from foreign travel during the first quarter of 2019, with the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains region being the most profitable single tourism area. This held true both for visitors from the US and for overseas visitors; for example, travellers from China spent $142 million in the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains region and $60.4 million in the Greater Toronto Area.
Canada's visitor statistics for the first quarter of 2019 provide detailed information about the travel and spending patterns of visitors. One of the most apparent conclusions is that the importance of overseas visitors is increasing. Not only did the number of overseas travellers increase during this period, but the high level of spending per visitor meant that each new traveller made a proportionally greater impact on the economy than an individual visitor from the United States.
Changes in travel patterns from the US suggest that overseas travel patterns might be more stable than US ones: given the close proximity of Canada and the shorter, less-expensive trips involved, US visitors might be more willing to choose an alternative destination or stay home when faced by deterrents like weather conditions. By contrast, overseas visitors, who typically plan longer journeys to visit relatives, could be less influenced by these factors.
The prevalence of friends and family as a reason for visits among overseas visitors also suggests that a Canadian population with greater ties to a wider world has additional benefits for the economy. Travellers visiting relatives or friends spent money on accommodation, dining, gifts, entertainment, travel, and more, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies. Although we don't yet know what the figures for the rest of 2019 will look like, data from the first quarter suggests that overseas travel will play an important role, with corresponding implications for Canada's travel policies.