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Why won’t Canadians stop travelling? ‘Vacation deprivation’ has citizens dreaming of one forbidden destination

Elisabetta Bianchini
·7-min read
Water Villas (Bungalows) and wooden bridge at Tropical beach in the Maldives at summer day (Sergii Figurnyi/Provided by Expedia)

While federal and provincial officials continue to stress that now is not the time for any travel, most recently with the announcement of mandatory COVID-19 testing upon arrival, including a required hotel stay while the lab test is conducted, travel lovers are seemingly incredibly difficult to keep at home.

Several regular travellers, most vocally Canadian snowbirds who are used to spending their winters in warmer locations, have still been travelling after advisories and restrictions related to COVID-19 were put in place almost a year ago. Even Canadian politicians couldn’t stop themselves from taking a holiday away from home.

“If you look at the travel patterns in the past few months of Canadians internationally, many of them have still flown south, many of them went to the U.S., to the Caribbean to Central America,” Dr. Frederic Dimanche, director at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University, told Yahoo Canada.

According to the annual Vacation Deprivation study from Expedia, which was conducted online with 9,200 respondents across North and South America, Europe and Asia-Pacific, including 1,000 Canadians, people in Canada plan to take an extra five days of vacation in 2021. Canadians have a “no days left behind” mindset to their time off of work.

The study found that 83 per cent of Canadians value vacations more now than ever before, higher than the global average of 81 per cent.

“Travel is the single-most human activity...that enables us in the quickest way, in the most effective way, from the point of psychology and sociology, social sciences, (to) expand ourselves,” Dr. Michael Brein, known as “the travel psychologist,” told Yahoo Canada.

Brein explained, referring to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs and measures of need satisfaction, travel can be closely connected to self-actualization and getting away from our more “mundane” everyday lives.

“It gives us more opportunities, more novelty and in order to expand and grow and mature, you have to have more possibilities,” Brein said.

The travel psychologist also indicated reward and satisfaction keeps people yearning to travel, even amid health advisories around the world.

“Part of that effect is increasing self-confidence, increasing self-esteem, through rewarding,” Brein said.

Expedia’s study found that 63 per cent of respondents have had feelings of vacation deprivation over the past year, an increase from 57 per cent a year earlier.

Tourists wait fot their turn at the counters at the Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), in Dominican Republic on December 5, 2020 amid the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
Tourists wait fot their turn at the counters at the Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), in Dominican Republic on December 5, 2020 amid the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

Where do Canadians want to travel?

For Canadians in particular, it seems that travel and tourism are generally seen as an important components of people’s lives.

“Almost all Canadians believe travel and tourism is important to our economy, and travel and tourism has just become so ingrained in our behaviour,” Dr. Statia Elliot, interim associate dean, external relations, at the University of Guelph and professor with the School of Hospitality, Food & Tourism Management, told Yahoo Canada.

The Expedia study found that 66 per cent of people globally have been inspired to create a “bucket list.” These lists have gotten more lengthy has the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

As the federal government has now worked with airlines to suspend flights to and from sun destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico, many of those locations have been top-of-mind for Canadian travellers.

According to Expedia, the top 10 destinations searched by Canadians, based on hotel searches, between Dec. 14, 2020 and Jan. 12, 2021, for the travel dates of Apr. 1, 2021 and Jun. 30, 2021 are as follows:

  1. Cancun

  2. Las Vegas

  3. Honolulu

  4. Tulum

  5. Maldives

  6. Maui

  7. Punta Cana

  8. Playa del Carmen

  9. Puerto Vallarta

  10. Bora Bora

A common thread throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is Canadians looking to domestic travel, in an effort to scratch that travel itch while staying closer to home.

The top domestic travel destinations searched by Canadians, based on hotel searches, between Dec. 14, 2020 and Jan. 12, 2021, for the travel dates of Apr. 1, 2021 and Jun. 30, 2021 are as follows:

  1. Quebec City

  2. Whistler

  3. Toronto

  4. Banff

  5. Canmore

  6. Jasper

  7. Niagara Falls

  8. Tofino

  9. Kelowna

  10. Osoyoos

Many of the destinations Canadians are searching for in Canada are outside of city centres, including more remote areas in the West. Back in 2020, a similar trend occurred, where Canadians were looking for more space and areas where physical distancing could be practiced more easily.

Will travelling still cost the same when COVID-19 slows down?

Elliot and Dimanche described 2020 for the travel and tourism industry as “the worst year on record” and “disastrous.” They both agree that there will be difficulties for the sector to bounce back from such a massive loss.

The impact COVID-19 has had on the “tourist psyche” is a significant consideration, Elliot says.

“Physical distancing will result in a lingering hesitation of crowds, even if we're not consciously thinking about it, I think it's going to be there,” she said.

“We even got a glimpse of that in the summer where, yes, people still went out and about, but locally, and with outdoor places being the most popular, beaches, parks, golf, cycling, cottages... I don't think that's going to just go away.”

Aerial panoramic seascape view during a vibrant winter morning. Taken near Tofino and Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. (Provided by Expedia)
Aerial panoramic seascape view during a vibrant winter morning. Taken near Tofino and Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. (Provided by Expedia)

Both Elliot and Dimanche are in agreement that a significant outstanding question is around pricing and what the cost of travel in the future, and who will be able to afford it.

“We all expected that travel was going to be a little bit more expensive because of the cost of sanitation, for example,...but actually after a few months and looking at what the situation has been, travel has not been that much more expensive,” Dimanche explained.

Expedia’s study found that 61 per cent of respondents are willing to spend more of their money on their “bucket list vacation” in 2021 than previously planned. This includes travel to a destination they’ve never been to before, reuniting with family or friends they haven’t seen during the pandemic, or travelling to get some rest and relaxation.

What will recovery for the travel industry look like?

Elliot believes Canadians will initially be more comfortable travelling within their own province, then inter-provincially and then lastly, more international travel will come into play. She added that there is a shift from taking public transportation to private transportation, with RV travel growing in popularity.

She highlighted that travel promotions around amazing experiences in interesting destinations have been altered, with hotel and airline companies now highlighting their thorough cleaning practices and flexible cancellation policies to attract customers.

Dimanche agrees that domestic travel could rebound first, while travellers try to limit risks, especially while many individuals haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine. But he does believe there will still be a “strong desire” to leave the country.

“I think there will be also a very strong desire to to get away, just to be in a different environment, which is one of the main purposes for travelling,” he said. “I'm not sure yet whether the trend towards domestic travel will be so much stronger as compared to international travel, if the doors for international travel are open.”

Dimanche added that depending on what the requirements will be to travel in the future, including testing and vaccinations, this could lead to differences in who is travelling and who is not, and how far some are willing to go.

The concept of “travel shaming” is also going to be a key factor for Canada’s travel and tourism industry, as some Canadians continue to be apprehensive, sometimes even mad, about people who reside elsewhere coming into the country.

“I don't think that's going to just go away but I do believe...the acceptance will grow, we'll get back to that place where we're welcoming again of tourists,” Elliot said. “Part of that is because we're tourists, and we'll want to travel ourselves.”