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Where Canadians want to travel in 2021: 'Canadian wanderlust' still strong amid COVID-19 concerns, Expedia report finds

Elisabetta Bianchini
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Jasper, Alta., Banff, Alta., Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Expedia)
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Jasper, Alta., Banff, Alta., Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Expedia)

Travel has been one of the hardest hit industries by the global COVID-19 pandemic but the new 2021 Travel Trends Report from Expedia shows that “Canadian wanderlust” is still strong.

In previous years, top trending destinations for travel by Canadians included a variety of international locations but in 2020, the destinations with the most interest were domestic locations, primarily Jasper, Alta., Gaspesie-Iles de la Madeleines, Que., Banff, Alta., Tofino-Ucluelet, B.C., and Okanagan Valley, B.C.

Of the top 20 most-search destinations by Canadians for 2021 travel, over half are islands in the southern hemisphere or other warm weather escapes that attract “sun and beach seekers.”

The top searched international destinations by Canadians for 2021 travel are:

• Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen and Tulum (#1)

• Puerto Vallarta (#2)

• Orlando (#3)

• Cancun (#4)

• Oahu (#5)

• Maui (#7)

• Punta Cana (#8)

• Maldives (#9)

• French Polynesia (#11)

• Bali (#13)

• Barbados (#15)

• Turks and Caicos (#16)

• St. Lucia (#17)

Nearby getaways are expected to remain popular into next year as Canadians continue to manage the COVID-19 situation, with travel interest from “slope and coast” explorers or people looking for some warmer temperatures close to home.

The top searched domestic destinations by Canadians for 2021 travel are:

  • Banff, Alta. (#6)

  • Okanagan Valley, B.C. (#10)

  • Whistler, B.C. (#12)

  • Mont Tremblant, Que. (#14)

  • Victoria, B.C. (#18)

  • Collingwood, Ont. (#19)

  • Tofino-Ucluelet, B.C. (#20)

Canadian travellers want flexibility, enhanced safety protocols and alternative accommodations

For Canadians booking travel plans for 2021, the Expedia report highlights some clear priorities in the post-COVID-19 world.

First and foremost, flexibility in booking is “required” for travellers, with Canadians booking refundable rates 10 per cent more often in 2020 compared to last year. Additionally, Expedia.ca lodging data shows average daily rates for refundable bookings were about 15 per cent cheaper in this year, compared to 2019.

Health and safety enhancement are a concern going into 2021, as should be expected with increasing COVID-19 cases in much of the world. Expedia found that since May, almost 300,000 properties added health and cleanliness information on Expedia.ca, including enhanced cleaning measures, contactless check-in and social distancing.

Concerns about safety is impacting trip planning as well, including accommodations. Alternative properties for travel lodging have been increasingly popular, specifically private vacation homes, cottages, glamping experiences, treehouses and house boats.

Canadians are also looking at shorter booking windows for travel plans. In 2019, the average Canadian traveller booked flights about 34 days in advance of their departure, but that window shortened to 22 days. Expedia indicates this is a trend with accommodations as well. Last minute bookings during the summer were on the rise with around half of Canadian travellers booking trips up to seven days out.

Bali, Indonesia (Expedia)
Bali, Indonesia (Expedia)

How to save money on travel bookings for 2021

The federal government is still recommending that Canadians avoid all non-essential travel but the introduction of the government-supported Alberta pilot program to test a reduction in the 14-day quarantine measure for travellers may bring a bit more flexibility for Canadians to travel.

For any Canadians looking to book some travel for 2021, there are a few airfare booking hacks the Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) recommend.

The best day of the week to book an international or domestic flight is Sunday. The best day to start a domestic journey is Friday, or Thursday for international travel. It’s estimated that these dates can save a Canadian travellers around 10 per cent.

Expedia also identified that for anyone booking a stay as part of their travel plans, the lowest average daily rate is usual found on Monday.

In 2020, average ticket prices for domestic flights hit their lowest around Canada Day and began to rise over the rest of the summer as “pent-up travel demand” picked up. Average ticket rices for domestic flights have returned to roughly 2019 level but prices are expected to fluctuate as travel restrictions and guidelines evolve.