Five Ways To Woo More Canadian Travelers


By: Karyl Leigh Barnes is the President of the Tourism Practice at Development Counsellors International.

Americans can learn a thing or two about taking vacation from their neighbors to the north. Canadians travel outside the country for leisure purposes twice as much, per capita, as Americans. In fact, 67 percent of Canadians own a passport versus 46 percent of Americans.

The Canadian economy is growing. According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian’s disposable income grew 2.2 percent between 2015 and 2016. Add to that the fact that the national household net worth of Canadians rose 12 percent over the same year, according to the 2017 WealthScapes report from Environics Analytics.

For all these reasons, Canada represents an important market for destination organizations around the world. But it’s a mistake to assume that the same marketing techniques and approaches that work in the U.S. will work in Canada. In Canada – and elsewhere – effective marketing depends on learning as much as you possibly can about your target travelers’ preferences, motivations and behaviors along the entire path to purchase.

Capturing the Canadian Consumer: Insights into the Path for Purchase for Canadian Travelers” a comprehensive survey of 1500 Canadian international travelers — covering millennials to seniors, all 10 provinces, the middle-income and affluent, English speakers and French speakers — was an eye-opener. Here’s what the study found:

It’s not all about the cold.

While you might think that Canadians travel largely to escape the frigid winters, in fact, Canadians travel internationally all year long. The same percentage of Canadians reported traveling in summer months as in winter months, and nearly a quarter reported that “the time of year doesn’t matter.” Destination organizations shouldn’t be “dumping” all their ad dollars into just promoting warm weather destinations during the Canadian winter.

Family comes first.

Family vacations are the most popular type of international leisure vacation, although romantic-themed trips were most likely to have been taken by residents of famously independent Quebec. For destination organizations, using the imagery that is the most motivational to residents of each province will make a significant difference in how your destination is perceived.

How wealth weighs in.

The affluent Canadian traveler (defined as earning an annual income of more than $200,000 Canadian) spends 38 percent more on international vacations than the general population. While most international travelers booked directly with the provider (i.e. accommodation providers, airlines, etc.), this was particularly true among higher-income earners. This means increasing destination brand awareness among affluent travelers is extremely important, since a physical travel agent is not always present in the process to reinforce a destination’s key selling points. This said, respondents making less than $200,000 per year were more likely to have used a physical travel agent, which reinforces the importance of educating Canadian travel agents on your mid-tier properties and iconic experiences.

When social media matters.

Not surprisingly, millennials are much more likely to select a destination that plays well on social media, despite the fact that this consideration didn’t even rank in the top 10 among the overall population. Destinations should ramp up your “pretty pictures,” and promote your destination icons on social media to build enthusiasm for your vacation experience if you’re hopeful to attract millennial travelers.  

Online sources rule.

While recommendations from friends and family are important, Canadians in general are more likely to rely on third-party sources when making travel plans. First and foremost are general internet searches, but they are also looking at online travel reviews, accommodation websites and information provided by online travel agents. When it comes to determining how they will spend their time once they’ve reached their destination, Canadians rely heavily on third-party sources such as general internet searches and accommodation providers. Content is king and destinations should reconsider the balance between paid, earned and owned in the digital space, when targeting Canadian travelers.

With heavier wallets and a natural penchant for travel, Canadian consumers are scanning the globe for their next trip abroad. Shouldn’t your destination be on their radar?

About Karyl Leigh Barnes:

Karyl Leigh Barnes is the President of the Tourism Practice at Development Counsellors International. Since joining the agency 20 years ago, she’s helped destinations on every continent but Antarctica increase brand awareness, visitor arrivals and spending.