Published on: Nov 27, 2020
Statistics Canada, the government's central statistics office, has released figures detailing the number of travellers to Canada in September 2020. The new statistics show a significant decrease both in new arrivals and in Canadians returning from trips abroad, with the total number of journeys down by over 95% from the figure for September 2019. These numbers reveal the dramatic effect that travel restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have had on the industry.
Canada's southern neighbour is the origin of most travel to Canada, both under normal circumstances and during the coronavirus pandemic. Although essential journeys, such as trips by delivery drivers, are permitted, other types of travel across the border have been banned under joint travel restrictions issued by the two nations. Canada and the US agreed to close their shared border on March 21, renewing the closure each month. The closure was still in effect in September and has since been renewed until at least December 21.
As a result of these restrictions, travel from the US to Canada saw a dramatic drop between September 2019 and September 2020. In September 2019, over 2.1 million travellers entered Canada from the United States. By contrast, September 2020 saw just 98,000 such journeys, a decline of 95.1%.
Although all types of travel from the US to Canada saw a significant decline in September 2020, the hardest hit was air travel, which decreased by 97.7% compared to September 2019. By contrast, travel by car declined only 93%. The difference is important because of the relative length -- and therefore economic impact -- of trips by car and by air. The majority of car journeys to Canada were same-day trips, in which the visitor entered and left the country on the same day.
Travel from all other parts of the world also slumped in September 2020 compared to September 2019. Travel to Canada from countries other than the United States decreased by nearly 96% during this period. In September 2019, the largest source of travel to Canada was the United Kingdom; during that month, over 120,000 travellers from the UK visited Canada. In September 2020, only around 2,000 people visited Canada from Britain. Similar patterns hold for other countries: travel from China experienced a similar drop, as did travel from France. Travel from India declined dramatically, although the decline was not as sharp, perhaps reflecting the lower level of travel from India in September 2019.
Accompanying the drop in travel from other countries to Canada was a corresponding decline in travel by Canadians. In September 2019, Canadians made over 4.6 million international trips, most of them to the United States. In September 2020, however, this number was down to just 343,000 journeys, of which more than half were same-day journeys to the United States by car.
Although travel numbers compared to September 2019 show steep declines, some areas of travel did increase in September 2020 compared to the previous month. The total number of trips abroad by Canadians increased by over 20% between August and September, for instance, while total travel to Canada, although still at low levels year-on-year, did increase by over 30%. A number of different factors, including seasonal ones, could be influencing these changes. However, these increases were not seen in all sectors. For example, air arrivals from the United States actually decreased between August and September, with a 12.2% drop.
Every province reported significant drops in international travel during this period. The largest losses were concentrated in provinces that normally receive a high number of international visitors; for example, the number of journeys from the United States to Ontario declined by 1.1 million between September 2019 and September 2020. The province also reported a loss of nearly 325,000 overseas visits during the same period. These declines are consistent with the general trend of tourist and recreational travel being concentrated in the provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
These figures demonstrate the significant impact that the coronavirus pandemic is having on Canadian travel. Canada's travel restrictions, as well as those of other countries, are reducing the level of discretionary travel, while the economic impacts of the pandemic and an increase in remote working could be reducing business travel. The overall picture shows the Canadian travel sector still dramatically and disproportionately affected by the changes necessary to protect public health.