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Canadian Tourism Vision Statement …Bold but how Realistic?

By May 13, 2017April 26th, 2022No Comments

During a keynote speech at Rendez-vous Canada in Calgary this week, the federal Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the Honourable Bardish Chagger, released Canada’s Tourism Vision. The release and associated funding commitments clearly demonstrates this government’s commitment to tourism, BUT much follow through is required to achieve the targets set out in the plan.

Among other predictions, the Vision asserts that Canada (with 20 million international visitors in 2016…a record year) is going to be a Top 10 destination by 2025. Russia is currently the 10th most visited country with 34.5 million international visitors in 2016. Assuming no growth in international visits to the Top 10 until 2025, that means Canada has to move from 20 million visitors to at least 34.5 million by 2025…an increase of 14.5 million visitors or 72.5% (about 7% compounded annually).

It’s a commendable target. Destination Canada, you have your work cut out for you! But how realistic a target (here’s where the follow through comes in)?

Let’s assume that of these 14.5 million new international visitors to Canada:

  • 90% enter the country at either the Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal airports (which is about the current proportion of all international air visitors to Canada);
  • stay at least two nights in the arrival city (a reasonable minimum of arrival and departure…but actual stays are likely much longer);
  • travel in a group of 3 people; and
  • half of them stay in commercial lodging (hotels, B&Bs, etc.)

That would generate demand for 4.35 million room nights (14.5 million X 90% X 2 nights ÷ 3 persons/travel party ÷ 50% staying in commercial lodging = 4.35 million).

Then, if we further assume 35,000 hotel rooms in Toronto, and 20,000 in each of Vancouver and Montreal, that’s 75,000 rooms. Over the course of a year, that’s 27.375 million room nights combined (75,000 rooms X 365 nights). CBRE’s most recent occupancy estimates for greater Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are roughly 60% so that means we are left with 10.95 million available room nights (27.375 million room nights, less 60% occupied leaves 10.95 million unoccupied room nights).

No problem…we can easily accommodate the additional 4.35 million room nights required in the 10.95 million available rooms, right? Wrong!

The problem is twofold:

  • No commercial lodging establishment can achieve 100% occupancy over an extended period of time. This starting point needs to be discounted to at least 90%, perhaps lower in calculating our available nights. Using a 90% threshold reduces the 10.4 million nights to 8.2 million nights.
  • The greater problem though is that the majority of these 8.2 million available room nights are in November, December, January and February. Peak season (May to September, inclusive) occupancies in these three major cities are >80%.

Therefore, whether you believe Canada can attract an additional 14.5 million visitors by 2025 or not, without significant development of commercial accommodation, an explosion in Airbnb listings or some other creative way of adding room night capacity, the “Top 10” target is going to be very difficult to achieve. Of course we could assume they are all VFR travellers…but that sort of negates the target in the first place.

Instead of focusing on volume, let’s focus on spending. Canada should be positioning itself to attract higher-value, higher-spending visitors. Achieving Top 10 status in visitor spending would be a far more beneficial target (and maybe even more realistic) than being Top 10 in sheer volume.

Author Lyle Hall

A trusted adviser to private- and public-sector clients in the international tourism, hospitality and gaming industries...for 35+ years. Areas of focus: Gaming, Hotels/Integrated Resorts, Convention and other Public Assembly Venues, Destination Management, Attractions, Entertainment and general Tourism.

More posts by Lyle Hall