Geek looking at data

How COVID-19 has changed travel patterns in Canada ― What the data says

Published Oct 30, 2020, 07:56 AM by Vito De Filippis
Travel has declined but the desire to travel has not disappeared. We used EA data to identify Canadian traveller patterns, understand who is travelling, where they live and where they are travelling to.

The closure of borders across the globe and a heavy reduction in air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced Canadians to rethink their travel plans in 2020. And they have. Our data shows that Canadians' travel behaviours have changed significantly since the start of the pandemic.

It seems people have discarded elements of their routine considered unsafe in favour of new ones that comply with health experts' recommendations. We adapted our summer routines as young children logged on to Animal Crossing instead of attending summer camp. Adults placed their LCBO orders online. Social gatherings and weddings took place on Zoom. Couples and families that would typically look to destinations overseas or in the US to scratch that travel itch instead looked for opportunities closer to home. It is no surprise that Canadian travellers are turning their attention to locales within our country's borders and even within their province.


How do we quantify this change?

Our VisitorView database has been instrumental in providing the tourism sector quick and easy access to statistics that help to understand the impact of COVID-19 on travel patterns. These data give users the ability to inform decision making with up-to-date insights representative of the changing behaviours and regulations set forth by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the example below, I will demonstrate how Environics Analytics’ (EA) data is used to identify Canadian traveller patterns, understand who is travelling, where they live and where they are travelling to. 


Canadian visitor patterns: Out-of-province and in-province trends

The chart below uses data from our VisitorView travel behaviour database to display the change in overnight visitors by province for July and August summer travel in 2019 compared to 2020. There is no surprise that there is a decline in travel across the board, given that many Canadians still do not feel comfortable travelling overnight away from their home. That said, splitting out the data by visitors originating from within each province and visitors originating outside of each province shows some unique differences in people's behaviour.

Change in Overnight Visitors by Province – Summer 2019 vs Summer 2020

VisitorView 2020



We see in the chart above that British Columbia has the lowest decline of Out-of-Province visitors at a 40% reduction. It sticks out, especially when compared to other large provinces like Ontario and Quebec, with declines of 56% and 61%, respectively. As a frequent visitor to BC, I can appreciate the allure of the mountain backdrop and mild climate in the summertime, but these results are impressive in the COVID-19 pandemic context. The decline in BC residents taking an overnight trip within the province is among the lowest in the country alongside smaller markets like PEI and Nunavut. Something about BC as a summer destination is standing out. 

In the Atlantic Canada provinces, we see a trend of considerable declines in Out-of-Province visitors due to the heavy travel restrictions that the Atlantic Provinces put in place and the formation of an Atlantic Travel bubble. On the other hand, travel decline for in-province remained low as residents continued to travel within the region. What's interesting is our ability to see the trend so clearly in the data.


Understanding visitor origins and destinations 

Where do visitors to your tourist region come from? What is their preferred destination? Let's use the example of BC visitors to dig deeper into some of the high-level trends noted above and to understand where visitors come from and where they go. The map below displays the percentage of overnight visitors to BC by province.


Visitors to BC - Summer 2020 - by Province

In-province travel by British Columbia residents 

Not surprisingly, almost 70% of all visitors to British Columbia destinations are BC residents. The tables below indicate that approximately 44% of all travellers hailed from the Vancouver area and chose destinations such as the Thompson-Okanagan or Vancouver Island for weekend getaways. 


BC Travellers City of Origin and Destination


*44% of all travellers within British Columbia, reside in Vancouver. Note that these residents may visit more than one destination. Overnight trips are those 60km+ away from their home residence. 


Out-of-province travel by British Columbia residents

We see that almost 25% of the visitors to BC are coming from Alberta, half of whom are Edmonton or Calgary residents.  


Alberta Travellers City of Origin

Alberta Travellers to BC Origin Chart

*Over 50% of all Alberta travellers to British Columbia reside in Calgary or Edmonton.


The number one destination for Alberta visitors is the Kootenay Rockies, likely due to its proximity to the border, followed by Thompson-Okanagan, which seems to be a great local destination during the pandemic and popular with the Vancouver population too. 

Alberta Travellers BC Destination

Alberta Travellers to BC Destination Chart

*Note that these residents may visit more than one destination. Overnight trips are those 60km+ away from their home residence. 


What do visitors to your tourist region look like? 


We can overlay PRIZM segmentation to gain even more information about the lifestyle types of travellers to BC. The figure below displays the top five PRIZM segments representing travellers from within the province and from outside provinces.


There are a few things that stand out across the top 5 traveller segments which would directly affect the way you would market to these segments:

19 – Family Mode is a suburban families segment that appears in both lists. One of the largest PRIZM segments in Canada, Family Mode is comprised of outdoorsy families that like to spend their summers camping and RVing. This year they visited the Vancouver Coast and Mountains region at high rates along with the Kootenay Rockies. Busy families do not leave a ton of extra time to consume media but tend to watch lifestyle channels, like HGTV and the Food Network and are avid online shoppers. 

25 – Suburban Sports is the top segment of travellers within British Columbia. This is a group of active families who would typically take vacations site seeing or cruising with amenities that suit their active lifestyles. We are seeing this segment taking overnight trips all over the province at high rates with a preference for Thompson-Okanagan and Vancouver Islands. Suburban Sports watch cable and consume traditional media regularly, allowing for traditional marketing campaigns to be within their reach.

11 - Modern Suburbia represents 7% of the visitors from outside of British Columbia. This group consists of younger multi-ethnic families who, while also into sports, are more likely to take trips camping or to places where there are attractions to keep their kids busy such as zoos and amusement parks. This summer they crossed the BC border to visit Vancouver, Coast and Mountains and the Kootenay Rockies. Modern Suburbia being much more technology-focused, may be unreachable on traditional media and a deeper analysis of what they are doing online will be important to know which digital outlets to focus on.


Travel has declined but the desire to travel has not disappeared


COVID-19 has upended the travel industry and disrupted those who travel. While it’s clear to see that travel has declined, it’s worth noting that the “want” and “urge” to travel has not disappeared. Instead, it seems that travellers are merely setting their sights on destinations closer to home. This example study only scratches the surface of how our data can equip the travel and tourism sector to understand traveller behaviour patterns during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

We can now dig deeper into high-level trends to tell a richer story about who is travelling, where they are coming from and where they are going—access to timely mobile movement data and insights that are proving to be a game-changer for our clients.  Traditionally, access to this information access would require a comprehensive study – teams, time, and a significant financial investment. I am happy to say that this is no longer the case. 

If you have questions about VisitorView, mobile movement data or to ask a question about your specific situation, please get in touch.

Try the data. Visit the Tourism Tracker Dashboard.

Back to top