The Travel Industry is Hurting

I flew to Toronto this week. One flight out, two flights (hello, bizarre sculpture in Calgary airport!) on the way back. While checking in at a terminal, uh, in the terminal, I glanced at the seat selection screen. There were plenty of other seats from which to choose. The seat next to me was empty on all three flights.

Julie was down at Granville Island today. It was a gorgeous day, and that place is usually teaming with tourists in the summer months. She was surprised how uncrowded the island was. She easily found parking.

We recently used Hotwire to book a four-star hotel in downtown Seattle for Gnomedex. The conference occurs over a weekend in August, surely a popular time of year for tourists visiting the city. We’re paying US $99 a night.

I know these are all isolated anecdotes, but they confirm what I’ve been reading over the past few months: fewer people are traveling shorter distances. Here’s some empirical evidence. Between March, 2008 and March, 2009, the Canadian Tourism Council reports an 11.5% reduction in the number of trips to and within Canada. That probably represents the entire profit margin for a lot of hotels, travel agencies and related services.

As a matter of curiosity, I checked which countries were showing the greatest decline in trips to Canada. The percentages reflect how many fewer visitors came in March, 2009 compared to March, 2008:

  1. United Kingdom – 24%
  2. Japan – 24%
  3. South Korea – 23%
  4. Mexico – 21%

Of course, most foreign visitors to Canada are from the US, where travel is only off 5.9% between March, 2008 and 2009.

In any case, I guess it’s all good news for the consumer, and pretty bad news for anybody in the travel industry.


  1. Last November I flew from Seattle to Boston, then from Washington DC to San Francisco, and then home.

    While both trans-continental flights were about 1/3 empty, the flight from San Francisco to Victoria was full.

  2. We’ve been contributing to the economic malaise in Seattle ourselves by waiting until closer to the last minute to book our Gnomedex hotel. We’re assuming prices (which are still pretty insane for the hotels closest to the event) will come down further. But Hotwire is always an option for us too — we’ve used it in the past for previous conferences.

    My family’s income has not (so far) been hit by the recession, so there have been benefits for us in widespread retail discounting and cheaper travel. I wonder how the inevitable price inflation of the Olympics here next year is being moderated by the economic situation? Has anyone seen any stats on that?

  3. I think the fact that the percentage of U.S. tourists has declined the least (in the stats presented) is due to the fact that cash-strapped Americans are seeing Canada as a cheaper option to more far-flung destinations.

    1. I know it’s been true for us in reverse (for complicated reasons): Vancouver Island, Whistler, Seattle instead of Hawaii, California, Europe, NYC, etc.

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