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Hopes for Canadian travel boom soured

A slower than expected recovery from the Covid pandemic has disappointed Canadian tourism officials.

July 13, 2022
By Julie Gordon
13 July 2022

Rising prices, border restrictions and airport chaos are threatening hopes for a post-pandemic summer travel boom in Canada, stalling a tourism recovery and taking the sheen off the country as a destination, analysts and industry executives say.

Tourism spending in Canada remains 34 per cent below 2019 levels despite strong gains over the last year, official data shows.

With most Covid-19 restrictions lifted, the Canadian travel industry had hoped 2022 would be the year when domestic tourism at least returned to normal volumes.

Travellers crowd the departures lounge at an airport in Toronto, Canada. (Reuters/Cole Burston/File Photo)

But petrol prices have soared, souring the outlook for road trips. Flying faces its own challenges: Canada’s airports are dealing with stranded tourists, cancelled flights and lost baggage. Others are stuck at home due to long passport processing times.

That has the travel industry bracing for a smaller-than-expected summer boom, which will delay the industry’s domestic recovery by about an year, said Beth Potter, chief executive of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

“At this point it looks like we could get there by the end of 2023, but we just don’t know,” said Potter.

She added that “there’s incredible pent-up demand” for travel, but that has been tempered by high inflation and other challenges.

A Canadian couple hold a homemade sign to welcome people heading into the US from Canada. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit travel, tourism brought in more than C$100 billion ($76.7 billion) in revenues a year and accounted for over two per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product. Revenues are forecast to be around two-thirds of that level this year.

The largest shortfall is in international visitors.

Foreign air arrivals were down 50 per cent in April 2022 compared to April 2019 and same-day visits from the United States, key to many border town economies, are lagging.

About 10 million people made same-day cross-border trips to Canada in 2019, and Potter estimates current numbers are at just half that level.

Canada has relaxed most of its Covid-19 measures. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

“At the big border crossings in southern Ontario, they’d normally see 50 motor coaches a weekend and now they’re averaging about two,” said Potter, adding a full recovery of foreign visitors is not expected before 2025.

Canada needs to do more to smooth out issues at the border dogging travellers, said Perrin Beatty, chief executive of the Conference Board of Canada, a business lobby group.

“If what people are hearing from Canada is that the system is broken, they’ll simply go somewhere else where things are functioning better,” said Beatty.

The federal government last week reiterated it is working to improve airport efficiency. It has hired 1,200 border agents since April, is adding new customs kiosks and has paused random Covid testing in airports to alleviate the strain.

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