Americans Still Travelling — Just Not to B.C.

The average person on the street likely has the impression that travel by Americans is trending down. Not so, says a local tourism industry consultant who’s been crunching numbers supplied by U.S. and B.C. agencies.

Reasons for the reported decline in travel by Americans have been variously cited as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mad Cow Disease (BSE)/SARS, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), increasing gas costs, decreasing value of the U.S. dollar, the recession, competition from other destinations — or a combination of the above.

Frank Bourree and his team at Chemistry Consulting Group have undertaken an examination of general U.S. travel patterns over the past 10 years to answer the question: how many Americans are travelling and where are they going? To understand these patterns, they reviewed 10 years of data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, and Tourism B.C., related to:

  • U.S. domestic air traffic — all passengers (travel within the U.S.)
  • Total U.S. citizen air traffic to all destinations (total travel outside the U.S.)
  • U.S. citizen air traffic to overseas destinations, excluding Mexico and Canada
  • U.S. citizen air traffic to Mexico and Canada
  • U.S. visitors to B.C. same day and overnight — all modes of transportation

The above data reveal basically the same pattern — U.S. traffic declined somewhat the year after 2001, then generally rose for the next five years (2002 to 2007-08) and then declined from 2007-08 to 2010 with some destinations showing a slight uptick between 2009 and 2010.

Overall air travel by Americans to destinations outside of the U.S. increased by 11.1 per cent between 2001 and 2010. With the exception of Europe (-8.5 per cent), Oceania (-15.9 per cent) and Canada (-8.0 per cent), travel by Americans to the other seven destination areas listed in the table increased between 2001 and 2010.

{advertisement} Now let’s consider travel by Americans to B.C. Unlike the pattern seen by most other international destinations, the number of U.S. overnight and same day visitors to B.C. has declined every year since 2001 (with the exception of a modest increase in U.S. overnight visitors between 2002 and 2003). This decline represents the loss of 2.5 million U.S. visitors to B.C. over 10 years. That is, while overall U.S. air travel to destinations outside the U.S. increased by an average of 11.1 per cent between 2001 and 2010, overnight U.S. travel to B.C. decreased by 20.5 per cent, while same day U.S. travel decreased by 54.4 per cent, during this same period (compared to an 8 per cent decline in U.S. travel to Canada overall).

These findings beg the obvious question: If Americans are still travelling despite Sept. 11, BSE/SARS, WHTI, and the recession, why are so many fewer Americans coming to B.C.?

We might have the answer to this question if we could say that Americans have been replaced by visitors from other international destinations. However, this has not been the case as only 0.3 per cent more non-U.S. international visitors entered B.C. in 2010 than in 2001 — with some ups and downs in the in-between years). Given that overall tourism indicators (e.g., provincial room revenue, tourism employment, tourism GDP) have generally been increasing and not declining over the past decade, the answer must be that international visitors have been replaced by Canadian visitors.

While it is a good thing that more Canadians have been choosing to travel at home, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that international visitors tend to stay longer, spend more, and bring new money into the province and country.