Toronto Leisure Travel Summit

Travel Industry Leaders Discuss Growth of American Inbound Travel to Canada at Toronto Leisure Travel Summit

Panelists Divulge on Maintaining Relevancy for Today’s Traveler

Hotel Association of Canada

Best Western Hotels & Resorts alongside Destination Canada, TripAdvisor, Hotel Association Canadaa nd the Tourism Industry Association of Canada spoke to the growth of inbound American travel to Canada as well as trends in the industry at Best Western’s 11th annual Leisure Travel Summit in Toronto.  

This year, Canada has noted a 20 percent increase in inbound travellers from the U.S. to Canada, according to the national travel survey done by Destination Canada. In addition, the country is seeing an uptick in winter and shoulder season travel. David Goldstein, president and CEO of Destination Canada, noted that once visitors have been to Canada, they are four times more likely to come back and seven times more likely to recommend travel to the country to others. He also mentioned Destination Canada recently launched a new campaign targeting Americans called, “Keep Exploring,” focusing on what today’s traveller is seeking – experiences. 

Beyond experiences, panelists noted travellers seek cleanliness, appearance of a hotel and fast and reliable WiFi. Even more so, travellers are depending on other travellers’ reviews when researching and booking travel. According to Brian Payea, head of industry relations for TripAdvisor, 230 new contributions are added every minute to TripAdvisor. He added, “Travellers want things fast and need information to be readily available.” 

Beyond seeking and expecting other travellers’ reviews, the panelists discussed the importance of loyalty programs to Canadian travellers. Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Best Western® Hotels and Resorts shared, “We speak to rewards members routinely to find out what matters the most to them and the biggest fear for Canadian travelers is expiration and devaluation of rewards points.” She continued to explain hotel mergers and acquisitions fuel this concern. Dowling added, “Our goal is to always maintain a strong currency value [for rewards points] and always encourage travellers to stay with us and reward them for their patronage.”   

For example, Best Western’s award-winning loyalty program, Best Western Rewards® offers its members points that do not expire, and with the strong U.S. dollar, more Americans are taking advantage of rewards points for travel to and across Canada. Hotel Association of Canada President Tony Pollard shared that 44 percent of Canadian leisure travellers and 61 percent of business travellers use and rely on rewards programs. 

Charlotte Bell, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, shared another concern amongst Canadian travellers: high cost of air travel. “There is a 40 percent difference in Canadian and U.S. air travel,” added Tony Pollard.  

With the high cost of air travel, Canadians are seeking travel to the US. because of better airfare options. Even with the high cost of air travel, Goldstein noted that air travel is up 19 percent and auto travel up 15 percent. “Air travel is outpacing car traffic and tends to bring a longer-stay customer,” he said. 

Also on the rise are travellers extending business trips to experience destinations, also known as “bleisure” travel. According to a survey done by Best Western, more than half of the respondents are taking advantage of business travel with the highest percentage – 56 percent – being Millennials. According to the Hotel Association of Canada, bleisure travel is up seven percent from last year (47 percent overall). 

When the topic of the sharing economy was mentioned by moderator Bryson Forbes of Forbes Marketing Consultants Inc., panelists agreed that consumers are driving this economy. 

Dowling noted, “The sharing economy is here to stay and the industry needs to embrace it, but it’s important all players abide by the same rules.” Dowling further expanded on how commercial operators such as Airbnb need to maintain health and safety regulations and pay occupancy taxes. She added, “Not only is Airbnb eating up a significant portion of hotel demand, it is also impacting future hotel development.” 

When asked who will be the winner this next year in the industry, panelists predicted the midscale hotel segment will continue to perform well, especially in Canada. Furthermore, industry organizations that adapt quickly to change will bode well. With a new, targeted tourism campaign Canada also looks to regain a competitive edge in the marketplace. 

Furthermore, maintaining relevancy for today’s traveller will be key for the tourism industry moving forward. After launching a brand refresh last fall, Best Western shared that the company is investing $2 billion by the end of the year in property improvements and renovations to North American hotels. At the Summit, the hotel brand unveiled its immersive 360-degree look into its hotel offerings through the use of the Best Western Virtual Reality Experience (BWVRE). With this new technology, the brand is leading the industry in reinventing how guests view hotels, further enhancing the decision making process. 

Dowling shared that by summer, every Best Western branded hotel in North America will have implemented the BWVRE. Through this virtual reality experience, guests will be able to view guest rooms, hotel lobbies and amenities as if they were there in person. Best Western is the first major company of its size and scale to launch this cutting-edge technology, setting a new industry standard for how virtual reality can be used to enhance the consumer journey. 

To view and download the Leisure Travel Summit highlight video, please click here.

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