Even with gas prices at record levels, Canadians are scattering across the country for new travel experiences after two years of bottled demand.
Some vacationers are still close to home on camping, hiking and biking trips, with many choosing road trips over expensive plane tickets as fuel costs and inflation loom, says Beth Potter, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
“When you think about these kinds of activities, they don’t always put a huge burden on the family’s pocket,” Potter said.
The average price of regular gasoline across the country rose to an all-time high of 197.4 cents per liter on Tuesday. But traveling by car can seem attractive regardless, because expensive jet fuel has also driven up airfares.
“It’s a much more acceptable alternative to other modes of transportation right now, where you’re restricted to a place with lots of other people, you have other restrictions like wearing masks, or you have proof of vaccination,” Potter added.
Double domestic travel
Canada remains the number one destination for Canadians in 2022, but even more so than in the pre-pandemic years, said Wendy Parady, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.
“People want to visit friends and family they haven’t seen. And there are some people who are still more comfortable, as the pandemic is not 100 per cent behind us, and are in Canada,” she said.
With many Canadians choosing to stay close to their homes, some tourism operators are doubling down on the local market.
Vancouver-based Destination Canada Tours has ramped up its offering for one-day tours in and around Vancouver and Victoria, while also marketing new vacations further afield to Canadians who exhausted options for getting closer to home last summer.
“We’ve seen Vancouver, we’ve seen Victoria, and we love Whistler. Let’s try elsewhere,” said marketing director Elise Millhout, replicating the customer thought process.
Industry experts say interest in the Rocky Mountains remains high, but reservations are increasing in less explored locations such as northern British Columbia and the Territories.
Near Yellowknife, Aurora Village, which used to cater mainly to tour groups from East Asia, continues to host visitors looking to enjoy the northern lights between warm-up sessions amid wood stoves and buffalo blankets.
“The Asia Pacific is going to be one of the slowest regions to start traveling internationally. And so they had to do a massive hub… and they had to get to know the Canadian traveler,” Potter said of the operator.
However, agencies are also seeing an increase in bookings for destinations all over the world, from Italy and France to sunny destinations.
South of the border visits also increased again. But there is still a hindrance in the US requirement that air travelers submit a negative COVID-19 antigen test or a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that has not been performed more than one day before departure. That variable, she said, is driving vacationers who might head to Florida or California to Mexico or the Caribbean instead.
Aviation analyst Helen Baker said she also commends international commercial travel for both Americans and foreigners.
“It’s really risky,” she said. “You wouldn’t go on a two- or four-day trip to London or even a week without knowing if you wouldn’t be able to come back.”
Some countries continue to test international travelers on arrival – Canada’s four largest airports do this at random for fully vaccinated arrivals – with a positive test resulting in days of isolation (10 in Canada).
Airports clogged with staff shortages and COVID-19 testing procedures are another hurdle for potential flyers.
With so many restrictions finally lifted in the wake of a stifling pandemic, demand can no longer be plugged in, Marty Firestone, president of Travel Secure insurer, said.
He said, “I see it is back to the pre-pandemic times, in regards to the upcoming summer. Be patient.”
The last week of April saw nearly 460,000 travelers arrive in Canada on international flights, more than 17 times the number of arrivals in the same week the previous year, but still two-thirds of 2019 levels, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.