Air travel boom for Canada

Much has been made in recent weeks about the decline in tourists coming to Canada due to the high Canadian dollar.But for Canada’s airports, an increase in both overseas travellers and outbound Canadians are adding up to continued international traveller growth.

The association representing Canada’s airports says these results are further proof that Canada needs to reform its international air policy and pursue Open Skies agreements if the country is to realize its full potential for inbound and outbound travel.

“Canada continues to enjoy an increasing flow of overseas travellers contributing to our $57.5 billion tourism industry,” said Canadian Airports Council President and CEO Jim Facette. “As globalization brings the world closer together, more overseas tourists and business leaders are coming to Canada, while more Canadians are also exploring beyond their own backyard to increasingly exotic destinations for leisure and business.”

While Statistics Canada numbers do show a year-to-date decline of nearly seven per cent in overall non-residents visiting Canada, the number of foreign travellers coming to Canada by air is holding steady while Canadian travellers going abroad by air is up more than six per cent. Transport Canada statistics also show continued international passenger growth, including overseas passengers up more than 21 per cent from pre-2001 levels.

Meanwhile, World Tourism Organization figures demonstrate that travellers are pursuing more exotic destinations, travelling in increasing numbers to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Conversely, Stats Can shows that some of the biggest rates of increase in foreign visitors to Canada are from less traditional sources.

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Canada’s current air service agreements with many markets around the world remain characterized by restrictions, however, limiting the ability of some air carriers interested in serving Canada directly from doing so. Despite the uptake in international travellers to/from Canada, some 15-30 per cent of them still find themselves travelling via the United States, for example.

“Canada’s commercial aviation sector is an important facilitator for our nation’s economy - bringing overseas visitors to Canada and bringing Canadian tourists and business leaders to the world. But Canada risks missing out on a golden opportunity if the government does not more aggressively pursue liberalization with foreign markets - ideally Open Skies,” said Mr. Facette.

Open Skies agreements remove restrictions on air service between two countries, including pricing, frequencies of service, capacity, destinations that can be served and the number of carriers operating between the two countries. Open Skies does not allow for domestic service by foreign carriers. A recent study showed that traffic growth after air service liberalization between two given markets typically averages between 12 per cent and 35 per cent.

The federal government currently is examining its international air policy, including Open Skies but while the U.S. already has signed 76 Open Skies agreements worldwide, Canada has just two: with the U.S. and the U.K. Major restrictions are in place with some of Canada’s biggest sources of tourists, as well as newer sources and emerging outbound destinations.

“The federal government has made big strides in taking a more liberal approach to international air service, but more is needed,” said Mr. Facette. “It is imperative that the government’s new policy be flexible, quicker to respond to changes in demand, and serve the needs and priorities of Canadian communities - not just air carriers. Open Skies is the approach that best meets this aim.”
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