What’s hot and what’s not in international travel

Springtime is here, the time of year when many Canadians turn their thoughts to travel. In fact, more Canadians are traveling further from home than ever.

Canadians spent more than 118.3 million nights away from home in foreign countries other than the U.S. in 2009 according to Statistics Canada, a robust 30 percent increase from the 91.4 million nights Canadians spent away from home in 2004.

More interesting still is that Statistics Canada’s data show that our travel patterns are changing.


We love the sun! Hot and sunny destinations made the most notable gains in market share between 2004 and 2009, with the Bermuda-Caribbean region’s share of Canadians’ visitor-nights growing from 16 percent in 2004 to 18 percent in 2009.

Cuba led the way here, with Canadians spending 3.2 million more nights in the island nation in 2009 than they did in 2004, a healthy 62 percent increase. We also spent 2.7 million more nights in the Dominican Republic, an increase of 57 percent.

Though they continued to grow in terms of absolute numbers, other Caribbean countries lost market share between 2004 and 2009 by not growing as quickly as the market as a whole

Mexico was also an increasingly popular destination between 2004 and 2009, gaining 4.3 million visitor-nights from Canadian travelers, a 53 percent increase.  Mexico accounted for 10 percent of Canadians’ nights spent away from home in 2009.

Cape Town, South Africa

Africa on the grow. Canadians spent 5.9 million nights in Africa in 2009, a booming 110 percent increase from the 2.8 million nights we spent on the continent in 2004. This boosted Africa’s market share from 3 percent in ’04 to 5 percent in ’09, drawing almost as many visitor-nights out of Canadians as Greece and Italy combined.

Some of this growth can be attributed to the fact that the average Canadian visitor’s 19-night stay in Africa was far longer than the average 11-night stay in Europe and 8-10 night stay in Mexico or the Caribbean.

Africa was also one of the more affordable destinations, with Canadian visitors spending an average of just $79 per night there.

Shanghai, China

China’s hot, Japan’s not. China enjoyed impressive growth as a destination for Canadian visitors, who spent 2.2 million more nights there in 2009 than they had in 2004 — a 67 percent increase, giving the country the same market share as the “Other Caribbean” countries, i.e., excluding Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

The same cannot be said for Japan, whose efforts (if any) to promote itself as a destination for Canadian visitors during 2004-09 were an unmitigated disaster.

Even as Canadians’ appetite for long-haul travel led them to spend nearly 27 million more nights away from home in 2009 than they did in 2004, Canadians actually spent 749,000 fewer nights in Japan in 2009 than they did in 2004 — a 36 percent drop, the biggest loss of market share suffered by any long-haul destination (though just slightly ahead of the big drop experienced by the South Pacific outside of Australia. More on that later.)

One of Japan’s problems is cost. On a per-night basis, it’s more than 20 percent pricier than Europe, nearly 50 percent more expensive to visit than China, 67 percent more costly than Hong Kong and 85 percent more expensive than the rest of Asia.

Hong Kong and other Asian countries stagnated, continuing to grow in absolute terms, but not fast enough to gain market share. These are, however, some of the most affordable countries to visit on a per-night basis, with Hong Kong being only three-quarters the cost of Europe or the Caribbean, and the rest of Asia being only two-thirds as expensive as Europe or the Caribbean.

Bruges, Belgium

Netherlands and Belgium, ja! Germany and Austria, nein! Europe,  long  a favourite of first-time overseas travelers, has experienced mixed fortunes recently. The good news: Canadians spent 6.4 million more visitor-nights in Europe in 2009 than they did in 2004. The bad news: That wasn’t enough growth to maintain Europe’s share of the Canadian long-haul-traveler market, which dropped from 43 percent in 2004 to 38 percent in 2009 — though Europe is collectively the single biggest long-haul destination by far.

Some countries fared better than others. Belgium and Greece might have only a tiny market share, but the number of nights Canadians spent in these countries grew by 82 and 69 percent respectively. The Netherlands (up 50%), Portugal (up 44%) and Italy (up 33%) also did better than the market as a whole in 2004-09. Spain (up 28%) didn’t quite keep up with the market, but came close.

Other popular countries saw growth in absolute terms, but lost market share by not keeping up with the overall growth in Canadians’ appetite for travel: Canadians spent 16 percent more visitor nights in Ireland — reckoned to be Europe’s friendliest country — and spent 13 percent more nights in France, 10 percent more nights in Switzerland and 8 percent more nights in the U.K.

Austria and Germany need to do some serious work promoting themselves here in Canada. Despite the boom in Canadians’ long-haul travel, Canadians spent less time in scenic Austria in 2009 than they did in 2004 — a loss of 9,000 visitor-nights. Germany’s efforts to attract Canadian visitors were somewhat more catastrophic, with that country’s market share declining from 4 percent to 2 percent amid a loss of more than a quarter-million Canadian visitor-nights.

South Island, New Zealand

Come and say G’day — or maybe not. Australia and New Zealand should be ideal destinations for Canadians. Australia has great beaches, New Zealand has spectacular scenery, and both are fairly friendly countries.

Alas, our cousins in the southern hemisphere haven’t benefitted so much from the growth in Canadians’ long-haul travel, despite solid advertising campaigns. Canadians’ visitor-nights in Australia grew by 11 percent between 2004 and 2009, an improvement in absolute terms but well below the market average. The number of nights that Canadians spent elsewhere in the South Pacific (mainly New Zealand) went into free-fall, however, dropping by an alarming 35 percent — the second-biggest mass loss of interest in a destination after Japan.

Those Canadians who did venture Down Under stayed there longer, though: an average of 24 nights in Australia, and 20 nights in N.Z. or other South Pacific destinations.

Playa del Este resort, Uruguay

¡Hola! Finally, we come to Latin America. Thanks to better air connections, Canadians have been spending more time in South America — 1.1 million more visitor-nights in 2009 than they did in 2004, or a robust 51 percent increase.

Central America also continued to grow as a destination, with a 20 percent increase in visitor-nights, though at a slower rate than Canadians’ demand for long-haul travel as a whole. With better promotion, this less-explored region of the world has growth potential.

Sources: Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 66-201-X, 2004 and 2009


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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