SOCIETY

THE POPULAR TOURIST

Americans stay in America, but 'worldaware’ Canadians travel the globe

KATE LUNAU July 7 2008
SOCIETY

THE POPULAR TOURIST

Americans stay in America, but 'worldaware’ Canadians travel the globe

KATE LUNAU July 7 2008

THE POPULAR TOURIST

SOCIETY

Americans stay in America, but 'worldaware’ Canadians travel the globe

KATE LUNAU

For anyone who’s hostelhopped through Europe, stretched out on a Thai beach or caught the bus from San José to San Juan del Sur, the Canada flag patch—which seems to adorn every other backpack—is a familiar sight. These days, you can find a Canadian in just about every corner of the globe. Americans, not so much. In fact, we’re about three times more likely to travel abroad than U.S. residents, who prefer to stay at home.

Canadians and Americans both tend to take about five leisure trips a year, whether it’s a week in Paris or a couple of days at grandma’s house, says Statia Elliot, a tourism professor at the University of Guelph. But while Canadians generally spend at least one of those outside the country, she notes, “Americans stay in America.” In 2006, Canadians took about 71,900 overnight trips outside the country per 100,000 people, compared to 21,300 for Americans. (That must be why about half of us have a passport, while less than a third of Americans do.)

And while most of our travel is still to the U.S., other destinations are more popular with Canadians than ever before: our overseas travel set a record in 2006, with 21,200 overnight trips to non-U.S. countries per 100,000 people. We make good guests, too. A 2008 Expedia survey found Canadians were among the most popular tourists (Americans were considered “most generous,” but they also ranked “least well-behaved”).

Why are Canadians so fond of travelling? According to Mike Tretheway, chief economist for InterVISTAS Consulting in Vancouver, we tend to be much more “world-aware” than our U.S. counterparts. Indeed, a 2006 study showed that almost two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 could not find Iraq on a map (another 88 per cent could not locate Afghanistan). Canadians, meanwhile, tend to follow world news almost as closely as their own, a 2008 Environics Research poll concluded. When it comes to travel, “we’re not as put off by eating food we can’t pronounce,” says University of Waterloo tourism professor Stephen Smith. “Americans tend to be more conservative about that.”

They’re more conservative with their vacation time, too. With just two weeks of holiday a year, Americans get three full days less than we do. And while the number of business trips we make is roughly the same, even when Americans go on holiday, they can’t stop thinking about the office. Almost a quarter report checking their work email or voice mail on vacation, according to a 2008 survey for Expedia.com.

Canada’s diverse population contributes to our frequent-flyer status. “You’ll see air travel follow immigration patterns,” Tretheway says, with many trips taken to visit relatives and friends in the old country. From Vancouver, for instance, there’s a non-stop flight to Manila available, largely because “your typical Philippine nanny will travel back to the home country once a year,” he says.

But let’s be honest: geography and climate may be the two biggest reasons we’re so fond of travelling outside the country. A lot of short-haul travel from Canada counts as international—Tretheway’s colleagues will fly from Vancouver to Seattle just to catch a Mariners’ game. For Americans seeking sand, surf or ski, many destinations are a short car trip away. We have to look farther afield. In 2006, sunny Mexico replaced the U.K. as our favourite destination (after the U.S.), with 2,660 overnight visits per 100,000. Of all our trips to the U.S., Canadians spent the most time and money in Florida. Those who go spend an average of 18 nights-and $1,131 per visitin the Sunshine State.

And while Americans flock to destinations offering “dining, shopping and entertainment,” Elliot says, we’re more inclined to visit family and friends. We’d rather save a buck and stay with them, too (Americans prefer hotels).

WE TAKE THREE TIMES AS MANY TRIPS TO OTHER COUNTRIES

While both Canadians and Americans take about the same number of leisure trips each year, we’re much more likely to go to a foreign country. Yes, it’s partly because we’re more worldly—but it’s also because there are few sun destinations at home.

Sources

Leisure trips (2005): Statistics Canada, U.S. Dept, of Commerce (DOC) and U.S. Travel Industry Assoc, data adapted by Statia Elliot, University of Guelph; overnight trips and foreign destinations (2006): StatsCan and DOC; passport (2008): Passport Canada and U.S. State Dept.

And that, of course, is another reason we’re going abroad in greater numbers—with the Canadian dollar surging, we can afford it.