MONTREAL — As gas prices hit record highs, Canadians are scattering across the country for new travel experiences, after two years of more limited pandemic travel.
Some vacationers are still staying close to home for camping, hiking, and biking trips, and others are opting to travel by automobile, rather than expensive airfare, as fuel costs and inflation weighs heavily, observes the President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Beth Potter.
“When you think about these kinds of activities, they don’t always represent a huge strain on the family wallet,” she pointed out.
The average price of regular gasoline across the country hit an all-time high of 197.4 cents per liter on Tuesday. But road trips may remain attractive regardless, as expensive jet fuel has also driven up airfares.
“It’s a more acceptable alternative to other modes of transport right now, where you’d be confined to a space with a lot of other people, you have other restrictions imposed on you, like wearing a mask or proof of vaccination,” Ms Potter added.
Canada remains the number one destination for Canadians in 2022, but even more than before the pandemic, said the president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, Wendy Paradis.
“People want to visit friends and family they haven’t seen. And there are people who are still comfortable with the idea of staying in Canada, since the pandemic is not 100% behind us, ”she said.
While many Canadians are choosing to stay closer to home, some tour operators are doubling down on their domestic offerings.
Vancouver-based Destination Canada Tours has ramped up its day tour offerings in and around Vancouver and Victoria, while marketing new getaways further afield for Canadians who have exhausted options close to home in the summer latest.
“We’ve seen Vancouver, we’ve seen Victoria, we love Whistler. Let’s just try to go elsewhere”, illustrates the director of marketing Elyse Mailhot by repeating the process of reflection of her customers.
Interest in the Rockies remains high, but bookings are up for less-explored places like northern British Columbia and northern Canada, industry experts observe.
Near Yellowknife, Aurora Village, which used to host mainly East Asian tour groups, continues to receive visitors eager to admire the Northern Lights before returning to warm up in tepees amid wood-burning stoves and buffalo skin blankets.
“The Asia-Pacific region is going to be one of the slowest to start outbound travel. And so they had to adjust quickly (…) and get to know the Canadian traveler,” Ms. Potter explained.
However, agencies are also seeing an increase in bookings for destinations around the world, from Italy and France to sun destinations.
Visits south of the border are also resuming. But a hurdle remains with US regulations requiring air travelers to show a negative COVID-19 antigen or PCR test result taken no more than a day before departure. This variable instead pushes vacationers who might be traveling to Florida or California to Mexico or the Caribbean, she said.
It also deters international business travel for Americans and foreigners, aviation analyst Helane Becker noted.
“It’s really difficult. You’re not going to take a two or four day trip to London, or even a week, and don’t know if you’ll be able to come back,” she explained.
Some countries continue to test international travelers upon arrival – Canada’s four largest airports do this randomly for fully vaccinated returning travelers – with a positive result triggering days of isolation (10 days in Canada).
Congested airports, in part due to staffing shortages and testing procedures for COVID-19, represent another obstacle for potential air travellers. But with the lifting of many pandemic restrictions, demand can no longer be blocked, said Marty Firestone, president of insurer Travel Secure.
“I see it getting back to about its pre-pandemic level, as far as the coming summer goes,” he said.
The last week of April saw nearly 460,000 travelers land in Canada on international flights, more than 17 times the number of arrivals in the same week a year earlier. This is still only two-thirds of 2019 levels, however, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.