Many industries were hit hard by the global COVID pandemic, but the hardest hit industry was the tourism industry. The ban on travel directly affected airlines, cruise lines, accommodation services, tourist attractions, and food services.
It also had an indirect impact on other industries such as retail when visiting shoppers didn’t bring in extra revenue. Some areas, such as the South Shore area in Nova Scotia, were hit harder than others, because many local businesses rely on the revenue brought in by tourists.
In this article, we have collected data on how the pandemic affected the tourist industry. We have also included statistics from the first quarter of 2022 to see what has been happening with the numbers of tourists in Canada since travel bans were lifted.
Tourism Statistics for Canadians
- Canada recorded 32 million tourists in 2019 with Toronto and Vancouver the two most popular destinations among international tourists.
- The number of jobs in tourism dependent industries fell from 2.1 million in 2019 to 1.6 million by the end of 2020.
- Post-pandemic, the tourist industry has struggled to find staff and at the end of the first quarter of 2022 there were 170,000 unfilled jobs in tourism.
- The revenues from the aviation industry fell by 89.9% from April to December 2020.
- The tourism spending in the first quarter of 2022 was 34.2% below the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
- The GDP from tourism increased by 11.9% in the final quarter of 2021.
- Spending by Canadians was 85.8% of the total tourism spending in the first quarter of 2022.
- There were 315,400 overseas tourists in Canada in May 2022.
- There were almost ten times more trips to Canada made by US residents in May 2022 compared to the year before and almost twelve times the number of overseas visitors.
- There were seven times as many trips to the United States by Canadian residents in May 2022 compared to the previous May.
- 593,200 Canadians flew to the United States in May 2022, which represents 73.6% of the trips by air recorded in May 2019. Overseas flights returned to 67.2% of the pre-pandemic levels in May 2019.
- 44% of Canadians feel confident welcoming tourists from overseas to their area, while 70% are happy to welcome tourists from other parts of Canada.
- 84% of Canadians believe tourism is important to the Canadian economy.
Before the Pandemic
In 2019, before COVID forced countries around the world to close their borders, Canada recorded a total of 32 million tourists, the ninth highest number in the world. However, when looking at the numbers of tourists in relation to the population, Canada is 49th in the world with 0.85 tourists per resident. It ranked number one in North America.
Toronto and Vancouver were the most popular destinations in Canada among international travellers. In 2019, Toronto ranked 53rd and Vancouver 68th among the world’s most popular cities with 4.74 million and 3.4 million tourists respectively.
In 2019, there were 2.1 million jobs in the tourism dependent industries and there were 232,000 tourism establishments.
During the Pandemic
Initially, in the first quarter of 2020, only 187,000 jobs were lost in the industry, but as the pandemic forced the borders to stay closed for much longer than initially thought, the second quarter of 2020 saw 581,000 jobs lost. By the end of 2020, there were 1.6 million jobs in the tourism dependent industries.
The number of active tourism business fell by 9.9% in December 2020 compared to January 2020. This was over three times the overall contraction of the Canadian economy, which was 3.1% during the same period.
The aviation industry was one of the hardest hit, with the revenues from April to December 2020 declined by 89.9%. In the same period, accommodation revenues from hotel stays fell by 71.2%. Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver recorded the lowest occupancies in Canada and saw the biggest revenue drop at 90.8% representing a loss of $2.3 billion across the three cities.
In the first quarter of 2022, tourism’s share of the gross domestic product in Canada was 1.3% of the total. The gross domestic product from tourism was up by 0.9% and it was the fourth consecutive quarterly increase. Tourism spending increased by 50.7% in the last four quarters, but in the first quarter of 2022, it was still 34.2% below the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
The growth in the first quarter was largely due to an increase in tourism spending by Canadians during domestic trips. This was up 2.9% compared to the final quarter of 2021. In the first quarter of 2022, tourism spending by international tourists was down by 6.9% compered to the final quarter of 2021. However, there had been a large increase in the numbers of overnight visitors from United States and overseas in the final quarter of 2021 and especially during Christmas holidays.
The tourism sector has been steadily adding back over half a million jobs and the number of jobs in the tourist industry went up by a further 0.8% in the first quarter of 2022. However, the industry has struggled to fill these jobs and there were still 170,000 jobs unfilled by the end of the quarter.
Closer look at the tourism spending increases
GDP: The GDP from tourism increased by 11.9% in the final quarter of 2021. It was followed by a more modest increase of 0.9% in the first quarter of 2022. The biggest contribution to the tourism GDP came from the transportation services at 2.9%.
Employment: The number of jobs attributed to tourism has been steadily rising since travel restrictions were relaxed. The number of jobs rose by 4.8% in the fourth quarter of 2021 and by further 0.8% in the first quarter of 2022. Travel services was the largest contributor with 10.2% increase followed by transportation services (2.6%).
Domestic Tourism Spending: The amount Canadians spend on travel increased by 2.9% in the first quarter of 2022. The main contributors towards the increase were passenger air transport, and pre-trip expenses such as camping equipment, recreational vehicles and crafts and activities equipment. Spending by Canadians was 85.8% of the total tourism spending in the first quarter of 2022.
International Tourism Spending: Spending by international tourists was up by 116.4% in the last quarter of 2021. However, it well by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2022. The biggest contributor to the decline in the first quarter of 2022 was passenger air transport at 11.4% followed by accommodation services at 4.8%.
Tourism Statistics for May 2022
In May 2022, the number of international tourists in Canada continued to rise, but was still not at the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. There were almost twelve times as many trips to Canada from overseas countries in May 2022 compared to May 2021. It was still less than half of the trips in May 2019. There were 315,400 overseas tourists in Canada in May 2022.
There were almost ten times more trips to Canada made by residents of the United States in May 2022 compared to the year before. The number of trips represented more than half (52.1%) of the trips taken in May 2019.
The number of visits from US residents in May 2022 was over 1.1 milliom compared to May 2021 when there were 113,500 trips made by US residents. In May 2019, there were 2.1 million trips to Canada from the United States.
Out of the American arrivals recorded in May 2022, 692,000 were by an automobile and 43.7% of the trips were day trips. In May 2021, there were 105,000 trips by automobiles and 1.4 million in May 2019.
Visitor numbers from major markets in Europe and Asia continued to grow. In May 2021, there were 7,100 European visitors to Canada compared to 164,000 in May 2022. Trips to Canada from Asia went up from 8,500 to 72,700 during the same period.
The table below shows the numbers of overnight trips before pandemic in May 2019 and post pandemic in May 2021 and May 2022 and the year-on-year differences. We can see from the table that the numbers travelling from France and Mexico have recovered the best while travel from China, Japan and South Korea has been the slowest to recover.
100 (almost -100%)
Travelling abroad by Canadians
At the same time as travel to Canada increased again, Canadians started to travel more to the United States and overseas. In May 2022, there were 2.2 million trips to the United States by Canadian residents. In May 2021 there were 311,800 trips to the United States by Canadian residents, so the number of trips a year later was around seven times higher.
Majority of the trips, 1.6 million were by automobile and 58.5% of all trips were one-day trips. The number of Canadians travelling to the United States by air in May 2022 edged closer to the pre-pandemic levels. The 593,200 flights to the United States in May 2022 represented 73.6% of the trips recorded in May 2019. In contrast, there were only 28,200 Canadians flying to the United States in May 2021.
The number of Canadians who resumed overseas travel has risen sharply from May 2021 until May 2022. In the previous May, there were only 51,400 overseas trips made by Canadians compared to 652,400 this May. The flights taken in May 2022 represent 67.2% of the flights taken in May 2019 and it was the highest monthly recovery so far.
Canadian views on travel and tourism
Since the return to a more normal life, Canadians are readier to welcome both Canadian and international visitors. 70% of Canadians welcome visitors from other parts of Canada, 48% are happy to welcome visitors from the United States and 44% felt happy to receive tourists from overseas.
In a survey on the importance of tourism to the Canadian economy, 84% of Canadians believe it is important. 82% said they believe Canadians travelling domestically is important for the economy, while 79% of the people responding to the survey said overseas tourists are important to the economy.
The travel industry is expected to reach its pre-pandemic levels by 2024 or by 2025 at the latest. While more people’s confidence in the safety of travel is returning to pre-pandemic levels, the growth can be slowed down by geopolitical events such as the war in Ukraine.
The global pandemic hit the tourist industry the hardest, and it has been slower to recover from the pandemic than other industries. However, as the confidence to travel continues to grow, the numbers have been increasing and are slowly getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.
Foreign tourism from France and Mexico has been quickest to recover, though still lacking behind pre-pandemic levels. The number of arrivals from Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea has been slowest to pick up again.
Most Canadians see the tourist industry as important for the Canadian economy and the number of Canadians who feel happy to welcome tourists into their towns and cities is steadily increasing.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most popular tourist destinations in Canada?
Canada recorded 32 million tourists in 2019 with Toronto and Vancouver the two most popular destinations among international tourists.
Is the tourist industry in Canada struggling to find new staff?
Post-pandemic, the tourist industry has struggled to find staff and at the end of the first quarter of 2022 there were 170,000 unfilled jobs in tourism.
Do Canadians feel tourism is an important part of the economy?
84% of Canadians believe tourism is important to the Canadian economy.
How many overseas tourists are in Canada?
There were 315,400 overseas tourists in Canada in May 2022.
Is the tourism industry growing in Canada after the start of the pandemic?
The tourism spending in the first quarter of 2022 was 34.2% below the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.