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By: Oksana Kishchuk

Three months ago in July, optimism about travel was building. Back then, we were full of optimism about a lot of things. Vaccinations becoming more commonplace, cases seeing a dip in the summer heat, and a growing sense of hope and optimism that we may not have to endure another COVID fall and winter most likely played a role.

However, as we officially entered fall a few weeks ago, we’ve been seeing a rise in cases in certain areas of the country, and the sense of normalcy we expected to feel this fall has yet to arrive. Just this week the US announced it will soon be opening the land border from Canada, but does this mean we are ready to line up at the border crossing in a few weeks?

To understand how our travel habits, in particular, are shifting we revisited some questions about travel to see how Canadians are feeling today.

The pandemic is still impacting how we think about travel and has had an increased impact on our ambition to travel as well. Back in the summer, only 19% believed travel that felt exclusive of a pandemic was possible. Three months later, this has dropped 4 pts, not increased, to 15%.

Instead, there has been an increase (of 9 pts!) among those who say travel still feels like it’s happening in a pandemic, and they aren’t interested in that kind of experience. This is likely a combination of many things- not being free from as many COVID rules and restrictions as we would have liked by this time, another wave of cases that we experienced, and perhaps a reckoning that easing back into a sense of normalcy is not happening at the pace we expected.

Regardless of why Canadians are feeling more hesitant, it’s having an impact on our predictions for which travel destinations will feel normal, and when.

Canadians are now expecting a return to normal travel in early 2022, rather than later this year. Regardless of the destination, Canadians are now more likely to predict a return to normal travel no sooner than Winter 2021 and are uncertain about travel out of their own province in particular.

It is still important to note local travel has taken a hit as well. When it comes to travel within one’s own region, 40% expect a return to normal travel by the end of Fall 2021, down 23 points from the predictions back in July (when 63% expected a return to normal by this time).

The on-the-ground COVID-19 situation in each province does seem to impact the predictions regarding our return to normal. For example, in Alberta, only 20% say it already feels normal to travel in their own region of the province- this has regressed from the 39% who said it felt normal back in July.

While optimism about intra-provincial travel has declined, even fewer are optimistic about a return to travel beyond their province’s borders. What has remained consistent is, the closer the destination, the earlier a return to normal is predicted.

Only 16% say travel to another province will feel normal by the end of this season, down from 46% in July who predicted interprovincial travel would be back to normal by the end of fall.

Optimism about travel to the US, saw a particularly large dip, especially when it comes to uncertainty. Now, 43% are unwilling to put a date on when travel to the US will feel normal once again, down from 36% this summer. Opening the land border may have an impact, but if opening the airspace is any indication, it will be more than an open border that is required for Canadians to feel comfortable.

Optimism about international travel also took a dip. Now, nearly half of Canadians are uncertain about when international travel will feel ‘back to normal’.

While travel may feel uncomfortable and uncertain, there is still some good news for the tourism industry, especially those hosting intra-provincial travellers. Canadians are slowly getting back into travel, especially within their own province.

Since the pandemic started, 45% have taken a trip out of town, within their region, up 9 points since this summer. Travel to another region of one’s province is up 12 points, to 33%.

Travel to another province saw a smaller, but notable climb to 14%- though it is still much less common, (and still more uncertain) than travel within one’s own province. And when it comes to travel outside the country, very few have journeyed to the US or beyond.

THE UPSHOT According to Oksana Kishchuk: Since July, the tourism landscape has changed in a few notable ways. Back in July many of us had the mindset that with vaccination rates moving like they were, we’d be on our way back to normal in Canada in just a few months. But now that those few months have passed, things aren’t exactly on track.

We are still experiencing waves of COVID cases in Canada, especially in certain parts of the country. Rules and regulations regarding COVID are more or less still here, and in some provinces, they have even been re-instated. Borders may be open, but the extra logistics, precautions, and worries of the virus aren’t completely gone.

But perhaps most importantly, is how we are feeling about the state of things today. It seems like leaving a pandemic mindset behind is more about easing back into ‘normal life’ rather than jumping right back in. This means far more people choosing to dip their toes into local destinations to build their comfort with travel, before branching out further.

Public health messaging around cases, social distancing and masking rules means getting into a post-pandemic mindset is hard, and something that is hard to wrap our minds around just yet. For many, local travel seems like a great way to test the waters.

For more insights on tourism and COVID-19, please reach out to Oksana, Director of Strategy & Insights at: oksana@abacusdata.ca

 

METHODOLOGY

This survey was conducted with 1,500 Canadian adults from October 1st to 4th 2021. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

The survey was conducted using a random sample of panelists invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. This poll was conducted and paid for by Abacus Data.

 

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