Visitor Travel Survey (VTS)

Detailed information for second quarter 2022

Status:

Active

Frequency:

Quarterly

Record number:

5261

The Visitor Travel Survey (VTS) provides statistics on U.S. and overseas visitors to Canada, their characteristics of travel and spending levels.

Due to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, normal VTS collection operations were suspended. Estimates for this quarter were derived using a combination of survey estimates from the same quarter of 2019 and growth trends from available and relevant administrative data.

The Visitor Travel Survey was introduced in January 2018 to replace the U.S. and overseas visitors to Canada component of the International Travel Survey (ITS record 3152 Archived).

Data release - November 25, 2022

Description

The Visitor Travel Survey was developed to fully replace the visitor component of the International Travel Survey. The Visitor Travel Survey provides information about international travel to Canada by U.S. and overseas residents. Starting in 2018, the Canadian residents component of the former ITS became part of the new National Travel Survey (record 5232).

Prior to the pandemic, electronic questionnaires (e-questionnaires) and the Air Exit Survey (AES) were the two components of the Visitor Travel Survey (VTS). The objective of the VTS is to provide more detailed information about the characteristics of U.S. and overseas travellers to Canada, such as expenditures, activities, places visited, and length of stay.

Information from the VTS is used to meet the requirements of the Canadian System of National Accounts (Balance of Payments (BOP)). Moreover, the information collected in the questionnaires is used by the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Destination Canada, provincial tourism agencies, the United States Department of Commerce, the OECD, banks, investment companies, other private sector industries and independent researchers. The information is also used for reporting to international organizations such as the World Tourism Organization (WTO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Pacific-Asia Travel Association (PATA).

The AES started in the year 2000 for overseas visitors and in the year 2011 for U.S. visitors. The primary objective of the AES is to improve the quality and reliability of trip and traveller estimates for foreign air travellers to Canada, from major and emerging markets. Starting in 2017, tablets were introduced to replace the AES paper questionnaires. Although the main mode of collection for the AES interviews is the electronic questionnaire on the tablets used by the interviewers, paper questionnaires can still be used as a back-up in case of tablet failure, or for eight commonly used languages other than English and French.

The e-questionnaire component of the survey began in 2013, with the distribution of invitation cards to travellers (Canadian, American, and Overseas) who entered at one of 137 designated Canadian ports of entry. The mail-back questionnaires were last used in 2014. As of 2018, the invitation cards were distributed to non-Canadian residents only as the VTS is only in-scope for U.S. and other overseas travellers.

In March 2020, all VTS collection operations (e-questionnaires and AES) were suspended due to the onset of the global pandemic. In the absence of survey data from travellers in the current quarter, estimates for the VTS program were derived by calculating growth rates from relevant administrative datasets and applying these growth rates to VTS results from the same quarter of 2019. A description of the administrative data sources, methods and limitations is noted in the following section.

Reference period: The Visitor Travel Survey is disseminated quarterly.

Collection period: There was no active survey data collection during the quarter.

Subjects

  • International travel
  • Travel and tourism

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The Visitor Travel Survey targets all American and overseas residents entering Canada, except diplomats and their dependents, refugees, landed immigrants, military and crew.

For a full description of how survey operations were employed to reach this target population prior to the pandemic, please refer to the detailed information for this survey for the first quarter of 2020.

In the absence of survey data for this reference quarter, a number of administrative data sources were used to calculate growth rates with which to derive estimates for the current quarter. It is important to keep in mind that the target populations of the administrative data sources will closely resemble but have important differences from the survey target population. They may also vary conceptually from the phenomena being measured by the survey program. Please refer to the section on data sources for a review of the data sources used to estimate the travel characteristics and expenditures of visitors to Canada.

For total trip counts, the numbers of US and overseas visitors to Canada continued to be benchmarked to the administrative counts of entries to Canada provided by Statistics Canada's Frontier Counts program.

Instrument design

Not applicable since there were no survey collection operations for this quarter.

Sampling

Not applicable since there were no survey collection operations for this quarter.

Data sources

As noted above, estimates for this quarter were derived by calculating growth rates from relevant administrative datasets and applying these growth rates to VTS results from the same quarter of 2019. Consequently, each estimate is a product of two sources: 1) the VTS estimate from the corresponding quarter of 2019 and 2) one or more administrative data sources.

For 2019 survey data that serve as a baseline for current estimates, the quarter is determined by the date the traveller crossed the border into Canada. Other administrative data used to calculate growth trends are based on actions or transactions that took place during the reference period.

For a full description of the questionnaires and data collection practices used to produce the VTS estimates from the corresponding quarter of 2019 (prior to the pandemic), please refer to the detailed information for this survey for the second quarter of 2019.

The following are the administrative sources used to calculate growth rates by concept at the time of this release.
These sources and the estimates may be revised in later releases:

• Trip counts by region of residence (US, overseas) and duration for US travellers (same-day, overnight): Frontier Counts
• Trip counts by trip purpose (business, personal): Frontier Counts E311 data (ceased in third quarter of 2021)
• Visit counts by province/territories, region of residence (US and overseas (total, continent)), duration (same-day, overnight) and purpose of trip: Frontier Counts, E311 data and flight booking data
• Trip expenditures by region of residence (US, overseas) and type of expenditure: aggregated payment processor data
• Visit expenditures by province/territories and region of residence (US, overseas (total, continent)): aggregated payment processor data, Frontier Counts

Estimating growth rates: approaches and limitations

The overall approach to calculating growth trends from 2019 was to use the administrative data source(s) that allowed for the most accurate measure of the individual VTS concept or categorical breakdown.

The following is a description of the sources and methods used to estimate growth rates for specific VTS measures or their categorical breakdown by another variable, for example the number of visits by province or territory. Caveats are noted where applicable.

Trip counts to Canada by region of residence and duration (same-day, overnight) are provided by Statistics Canada's Frontier Counts program and continued to be accurate measures of these concepts for the VTS target population during the pandemic.

For trip counts by trip purpose, E311 declaration cards collected by CBSA officers at Toronto T1 from commercial air travellers arriving in Canada were used to determine the change in proportions of total US and overseas travellers coming to Canada for business and personal reasons. These changes were then applied to the business and personal proportions from the same quarter of 2019 to estimate the trip purpose proportions in this quarter of 2020. While Toronto T1 represented an important proportion of international arrivals to Canada during this quarter (as international flights were restricted to four Canadian airports beginning in March 2020), travellers arriving at other airports and by other modes of transportation (e.g., automobile) may have had different trip purpose profiles. The estimation of trips to Canada by trip purpose ceased in the third quarter of 2021, as Toronto T1 switched to the use of Primary Inspection Kiosks (PIK), which do not subdivide trip purpose between business and personal.

A combination of administrative sources was used to produce visit counts for provinces and territories by region of residence (US and overseas (continents). First, national totals of visit-counts by region of residence were calculated by applying an expected average numbers of visits per trip to the Frontier Counts trip counts. The national visit counts were then distributed among the provinces and territories using a combination of previous VTS provincial visit distributions, changes in flight booking data on air traveller's origins and final destinations and changes in Frontier Counts data on the provincial distribution of arrivals by mode. Measures were taken to account for differences between provinces visited and provinces entered for arrivals by land, as well as for air travel by private planes or on domestic flights that were booked after having arrived in Canada. However, these adjustments were speculative and cannot be tested for accuracy. Users are advised to use caution when analyzing these data and to expect less accuracy for smaller combinations of province/territory and region of residence.

Growth rates for travel expenditures were largely based on aggregated payment processor data, which contain the summations of purchases made in Canada using non-Canadian credit or debit cards. Prior to the pandemic, these data, provided by Destination Canada, had been used in the VTS as auxiliary information to improve the quality of expenditure data at more detailed levels of geography (countries of residence and regions of Canada visited) and expenditure categories. These aggregated data are provided to Statistics Canada by merchant category, country of cardholder, tourism region of the merchant and time period. Note that while two sets of expenditure data were produced from the VTS in 2019 (pure survey and Small Area Estimation (SAE)) the estimation process for the current quarter used only the SAE values as baseline 2019 expenditures.

The use of payment processor data as an indicator for travel expenditures is affected by a number of factors. Firstly, the universe of payment processor data includes unknown amounts of transactions by Canadian residents using a foreign-based debit or credit card. While the contribution of this Canadian-resident spending was considered to be marginal with pre-pandemic levels of travel, the contribution becomes much more significant once levels of international travel dropped by 95% or more. For example, it was observed that spending on food in particular did not decrease as much as other expenditure categories. This is likely the influence of a resident population but also of some international travellers staying longer than expected with friends and relatives due to the cancellation of international flights during the early months of the pandemic. Meanwhile changes in accommodation spending were observed to align more closely with declines in visitor arrivals. To counter the contribution of resident spending in the aggregated payment processor data, a methodology was adopted to downwardly adjust the higher-than-historical proportions of expenditures on items other than accommodation in particular towards levels more in line with accommodation expenditures and levels of international arrivals to Canada.

Secondly, when comparing pre- and post-pandemic periods it is known that there was a shift away from the use of cash towards the use of debit and credit cards, resulting in an upward bias of expenditure growth rates based on payment processor transactions. This effect is expected to be moderated by the use of accommodation spending as a form of anchor for non-accommodation expenses, as it is expected that cash would have represented very small proportions of expenditures in this category both before and after the start of the pandemic.

Thirdly, payment processor transactions are recorded during the period in which the transaction took place which, for transportation and accommodation expenses in particular, are frequently in advance of the quarter during which travel took place. Furthermore, the impact of travel purchases made in one quarter that are cancelled in later quarters (negative value transactions) cannot be measured.

Fourthly, when comparing with pre-pandemic results for VTS, users should remember that the VTS assigned the travel expenditures of travellers according to the quarter during which they arrived in Canada. The consistency in target populations for the trip and expenditure measures allowed for the calculation of average trip expenditures. The same calculation should not be made using estimates for the post-pandemic period when the survey was suspended, particularly the second quarter of 2020. This is because the levels of payment processor expenditures in the numerator represent Canadian purchases made during the current quarter by both travellers who arrived in both the current quarter (when levels of international travel dropped abruptly) and previous quarters while the numerator represents only travellers who arrived in the current quarter. This would inflate the average expenditure per trip, in most cases.

Fifth, providers of administrative data may change the concepts or universes that their data cover, affecting historical growth trends. Such a scenario took place in the first quarter of 2021 when one provider of payment processor data ceased including some centrally-processed transactions. Steps were taken to minimize the impact of this change on long-term VTS trends.


Growth rates for individual measures (e.g., trips, visits, expenditures) were made from different administrative sources in order to produce the best possible estimates for each measure. As a result of these measures being calculated independently, users are generally advised to avoid making calculations involving multiple measures, such as average spending per visit or trip.

Error detection

Not applicable since there were no survey collection operations for this quarter.

Imputation

Not applicable since there were no survey collection operations for this quarter.

Estimation

Due to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 which cancelled normal VTS collection operations, estimates for this quarter were derived by calculating growth rates from relevant administrative datasets and applying these growth rates to VTS results from the same quarter of 2019.

Quality evaluation

For a full description of the quality evaluation practices used to produce the VTS estimate from the corresponding quarter of 2019 (prior to the pandemic), please refer to the detailed information for this survey for the second quarter of 2019.

Data quality is systematically evaluated every quarter. Statistical tables required for analysis are produced and compared with related data sources. A set of indicators is also produced. They are used to determine whether general tourism trends reflect those of the VTS. Furthermore, Statistics Canada works in close cooperation with Destination Canada and the provincial tourism departments who provide additional viewpoints and information sources to help evaluate the data quality at a more refined geographic level.

Administrative data sources used to calculate growth trends from 2019 were assessed on the basis of coverage, alignment with survey concepts, comparison with alternative sources and a subject matter review of the quality of the data source as an indicator in predicting previous VTS results. Some survey concepts (e.g., visit-nights) or levels of detail (e.g., expenditures in Canada by US visitors by US region of residence) are not published as there was no administrative source available that measured the concept or the concept for the given level of detail, or the available sources did not demonstrate a reliable correlation with past survey results.

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects that could identify any person, business, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

For a full description of the above subjects as they apply to the survey prior to the pandemic, please refer to the detailed information for this survey for the second quarter of 2019.

Data accuracy

The accuracy of estimates produced using the method of applying growth rates based on administrative data to previous VTS estimates depends on the accuracy of both the baseline 2019 estimates and the methods and data sources used to derive growth rates or categorical breakdowns.

For a full description of data accuracy related to survey-based VTS estimates, please refer to the detailed information for this survey for the second quarter of 2019.

Because the methods and sources used to derive growth rates do not involve sampling methodology, the coefficients of variation that previously served as indicators of survey quality cannot be produced. The accuracy of the resulting estimates then involves an assessment on the part of the user of the accuracy of the assumptions resulting from the methods and sources used to derive the growth rates or categorical breakdowns, described above.

Since the assumptions underlying the model used to produce the Q2 estimates cannot be verified, it is difficult to assess the quality of the estimates produced with this methodology. Therefore, we recommend that the users interpret these estimates with caution.

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