Every year between 6 and 7 million tourists visit Edmonton. In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, we received 6.7 million person visits (that’s a measure of raw visitors not accounting the duration of their stay). Where do these tourists come from, and why do they visit Edmonton? Data from two Statistics Canada surveys, the Travel Survey of Residents of Canada (TSRC) and the International Travel Survey (ITS) can answer that question.
First, we should distinguish between visitors who spend at least one night in Edmonton, and those who return home on the same day they visit. Over half of our person visits in 2012, approx. 3.8 million, were same-day visits. The vast majority of those visitors, over 98%, were from Alberta and most traveled less than 160 kms to Edmonton. Same-day visitors are important to all sorts of businesses in the city, from retailers to restaurants to art galleries, but probably aren’t what most people think of as tourists. So let’s focus on visitors who stay in Edmonton for at least one night.
The story here is largely the same as the same day visitors. The majority of overnight visitors are Canadian and reside in Alberta, B.C., and Saskatchewan. Clearly geographic proximity plays a big role in determining Edmonton’s major tourism markets, which makes intuitive sense.
For the United States, the number of visitors Edmonton receives from each state appears to be a factor of both that state’s population and its distance from Edmonton. Our biggest tourism markets in the US are Texas, California, and Washington State. Texas and California are the two most populous states in the US, so you’d expect them to also send the highest number of visitors to Edmonton. Washington State’s ranking is probably due to a combination of relatively high population and geographical proximity.
The case of Washington D.C. is a bit of a mystery. It has a small population and is far from Edmonton, but it was our fifth-largest US tourism market in 2012. What’s more, the number of overnight visitors increased by a staggering amount: from under 500 in 2011 to nearly 6,000 in 2012. This could reflect a real change in the market, or it could just be a statistical anomaly due to the small sample size of the ITS (the Edmonton data for US visitors is based on a sample of less than 200 surveys). Unfortunately, due to some changes in the International Travel Survey between 2010 and 2011 we can’t make statistically valid comparisons between 2011/12 and earlier years, making it tough to say whether this growth reflects a real trend.
In terms of overseas visitors, the UK, Australia, China, and Germany are our biggest markets. Again, it’s likely that a country’s population and geographic distance to Edmonton are important factors in determining the number of visitors. China in particular is a remarkably fast-growing source of visitors – between 2011 and 2012 the number of overnight person visits to Edmonton from China more than doubled. Again, a small sample size and the changes in the ITS after 2010 make it difficult to tell if this change reflects a real trend or a statistical blip.
So that’s who visits Edmonton. Why do they visit? The reasons are largely the same between Canadian and overseas visitors. The trip purpose of just under half of person visits from both markets is to visit friends and relatives. There’s an important difference between these visitors and a business or pleasure traveler: they spend a lot less money. Average per person per night spending in Edmonton for someone visiting friends and relatives was $55, compared to $88 for all overnight visitors.
As for US visitors, they’re much more likely to be traveling for business compared to other markets. They also happen to spend the most on average, at $171 per person per night. I guess it’s easier to run up a tab when your company is footing the bill.
Note: The source for all charts is Statistics Canada, Travel Survey of Residents of Canada and International Travel Survey. Results from the two surveys are harmonized for Edmonton Tourism by Research Resolutions Ltd.