As we await for Canada to reopen its borders to U.S. travelers, we want you to be prepared when marketing the destination to your clients. During last month’s virtual Rendez-vous Canada event, Destination Canada, Virtuoso, and Expedia representatives shared intel on what the U.S. traveler is looking for and who the target traveler is now.
“The U.S. audience is an incredibly important market for Canada,” says Sarah Finstad, regional managing director, North America, Destination Canada. “It’s our number-one source market for travelers. If you recall, pre-COVID-19 we had a record of 15 million Americans who traveled to Canada, spending over $11 billion.
“Our borders are closed right now, but we are all anticipating the historic moment when the Canadian and the American border reopens.”
“We have identified a market, what we call our high-value travelers—these are travelers who travel with purpose. They want to immerse themselves in local culture, they want to learn and grow and travel like a local. They also have the means to invest in travel; that’s a really big part of this,” says Finstad.
“What we also identified is that travelers who traveled between 2016-2019 to Canada are our biggest fans and are really interested in coming back and really interested in telling their friends about Canada.
“A couple of things that we identified is that there are two core segments that we’re looking at: the fully independent traveler and the luxury traveler,” she says.
“The travel industry is no stranger to disruption, whether it’s an economic downturn, or terrorism, earthquakes, pandemics,” says Beth Butzlaff, v.p., global partner relations, Virtuoso.
“One thing we see after each of these disruptions is that the high net-worth client is the first to emerge. Generally these individuals don’t have to worry about their financial wellbeing, they’re self-sufficient, they’re very well-traveled. They’re not timid to venture out into the world so they’re the first to do it,” she says.
Adding that, “We are seeing a lot of pent-up demand in the luxury segment—Regent Seven Seas opened its 2022-2023 World Cruise and it sold out in one day. The average cost of a booking is $150,000 pp and it was the best sales day in history, not just during the pandemic. So people are ready, they’re willing, and they can not wait to get to Canada.”
If you’re wondering why clients are ready to head to Canada, Butzlaff says, “It’s what’s emerging overall. They like the sense of openness, they like the adventure outdoor spaces, they like exclusive access, too. One of the things we’re really seeing is this mind, body, soul [mentality]—spa, yoga, wellness, plant-based food, places to exercise…we don’t see crowds any time in the future, so exclusivity is one thing they’re looking for.”
Finstad adds that, “Coming through the pandemic, exclusivity is one thing tour operators have had to build into their experiences because they’ve been forced to almost create a white glove experience for travelers.”
Consumer Confidence & Drive Trips
Erica Eyring, director of business development media solutions, Expedia, adds that, “Consumer confidence in travel varies widely by country and even city and state in some cases. But,” she says, “we are seeing a moment of pickup in the U.S. Whenever you do anything outside your house these days it’s Instagram-worthy. Travel shoppers are showing a preference to travel domestically still and we expect that trend to continue for this year. For the U.S. nearly 80 percent of the searches were domestic vs. Canada was about 65 percent. But, we have to consider that some of this is situational, once our borders open, we can see it turn around pretty quickly.
“We are also seeing that people are still planning within a short window…the majority of people are searching for trips within 21 days of travel. That’s a trend we are seeing globally and in the U.S.,” says Eyring.
“It’s also worth mentioning that car travel is the preferred method of getting places still and we also think it’s going to stick around for the near term,” she adds. “We also expect air travel is going to have the biggest bounce back post-pandemic.”
Finstad adds, “The sense is that once you’re vaccinated, there’s less of a worry to get on a plane.”
Eyring agrees, saying that, “The vaccine rollout has been relatively successful here, and once people are totally vaccinated they’re ready to go.”
For advisors planning for that drive traveler from the U.S., Eyring says, “One of the things that’s important to travelers is parking because people are going to be taking their car places, they want to know what’s available. And also to think about who you’re targeting, and our date shows people are willing to take trips up to nine hours or so.” She adds that advisors should also keep in mind the distance from where people could be driving from when planning road trips for clients.
Butzlaff adds that, “Luxury travelers are more willing to get on a plane now. One thing about Canada is that it’s a relatively short flight and I think that’s still top of mind; that will be something that’s very attractive to be talked about. Canada is seen as exotic in a way, but we’re neighbors. Having exotic right next door is really appealing to the luxury traveler.”
Splurge Travel, a.k.a. “Revenge Travel”
Finstad says she likes to call revenge travel, splurge travel. “Travelers have accumulated travel loyalty points from airlines, hotels and other programs they belong to, so they’re working on these dream trips and they want to throw it all in, whether it’s to spend more time in the destination or go to hotels they’ve always dreamed of going to or experiences they’ve wanted to do, or bring their family along,” she adds, “but it’s taking them a lot of time to plan because they need to understand restrictions and protocols in the destination.”
Eyring says that, “While Americans have not always had the best reputation for taking the time off, Americans are planning to spend more and stay longer when they travel this year. In our travel trends report, we found that Americans are planning to take more extended trips and are budgeting a significant amount of money for travel this year. Among those are millennials, and people in the West Cost and the Northeast indicated that they are willing to splurge the most.
“They’re looking for reassurances in flexibility in booking but it’s also important that they want information on how destinations are handling pandemic protocol,” says Eyring. “Those aren’t things they just want to hear about, but they need to hear about them when making their future destination and accommodation decision.”
Butzlaff adds that the high-net-worth client is usually traveling three times a year, so there’s a lot of pent-up demand. “It’s more like deserved travel, when it happens it’ll happen far and wide, and longer,” she says.
“A lot of these bookings are new. The low hanging fruit of the credit or rebooking is still there, but we are seeing people starting to rebook,” says Butzlaff.
“What’s happened this past year is that people are really leaning in to using a travel advisor,” she adds. “We found that 80 percent of clients are likely to use a travel advisor in the future, and that is not a surprise if you think of what is happening in today’s world. These clients have to know about medical issues, government restrictions, safety protocols, terms and conditions, and the travel advisor has all that information and is accumulating all that information to provide that to the client. And flexibility is key right now. If you have opportunity to include some flex in your terms and conditions, use it because it’ll work.”
Top Tip for Sellers
“Throughout the pandemic we know dreaming of travel hasn’t stopped though it’s been hard with our borders closed and stay-at-home orders, but it’s really important to reactivate their marketing and attract American travelers,” says Eyring.
Butzlaff adds, “I know that Canada is facing really hard new disruption right now, but I want everyone to remember that everyone is on their own journey right now. Try to remove yourself from the current place you’re at and market because you don’t want to go dark and quiet. The luxury traveler loves direct mail. There’s been great response to virtual events—don’t stop if you’re not in front of people you’ll be missed. Make sure your travel experiences are being seen.”
For more information, visit destinationcanada.com/en.
Don’t miss: “When is Canada’s Border Reopening?”
And, for more reopening updates around the globe, click here.