Visitor Travel Survey (VTS)

Detailed information for fourth quarter 2023





Record number:


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

Following the collection hiatus due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, VTS collection operations have partially resumed in April 2023. For the air commercial portion, the Air Exit Survey (AES) resumed collection in five major airports. For the non-air commercial portion (land, water, private air), estimates were derived using a combination of collected AES data and historical non-air commercial information as well as the Frontier Counts; the electronic questionnaires have not resumed.

The VTS was introduced in January 2018 to replace the American and overseas visitors to Canada component of the International Travel Survey (ITS).

Data release - May 24, 2024


The VTS was developed to fully replace the visitor component of the ITS. The VTS collects information about international travel to Canada by American and overseas residents. Starting in 2018, the Canadian residents component of the former ITS became part of the new National Travel Survey.

The objective of the VTS is to provide more detailed information about the characteristics of American 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). Moreover, the information collected in the questionnaires is used by the Tourism Satellite Account, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Destination Canada, provincial tourism agencies, the United States Department of Commerce, 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, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Pacific-Asia Travel Association.

Prior to the pandemic, electronic questionnaires (e-questionnaires) and the AES were the two components of the VTS.

The AES started in the year 2000 for overseas visitors and in the year 2011 for American visitors. The primary objective of the AES is to improve the quality and reliability of tourism statistics for air travellers to Canada from major and emerging markets. Starting in 2017, tablets were introduced to replace the AES paper questionnaires.

The e-questionnaire (non-air commercial portion) 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. Starting in 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, 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.

In April 2023, the AES resumed collection in five major airports (Halifax, Montreal, Toronto Pearson, Calgary, and Vancouver), but the e-questionnaire component of the survey still has not resumed. Therefore, for the second quarter of 2023, the air commercial portion is estimated from the collected AES data and the non-air commercial portion (land, water, private air) is estimated from a combination of the collected AES data, historical non-air commercial information and the Frontier Counts.

Reference period: The AES component of the VTS collects information on a monthly basis and is disseminated quarterly. The quarter is determined by the date the traveller entered Canada.

Collection period: 5 to 7 days per month per airport, for July 2023 to September 2023


  • International travel
  • Travel and tourism

Data sources and methodology

Target population

VTS targets all American and overseas residents entering Canada, except diplomats and their dependents, refugees, landed immigrants, military, crew members and travellers staying longer than eight months.

For the AES, Statistics Canada interviewers conduct personal interviews with American and overseas travellers while they await their return flights in selected Canadian airports. Visitors from major and emerging overseas markets are targeted. The AES interviewer team is multilingual, enabling interviews to be conducted in the native language of the travellers where possible.

The number of interviews targeted at each airport for a particular month and a particular overseas country is based on the number of travellers from that country who cleared customs through the airport using a combination of 1) the 12 months of 2019, the most recent full year of typical travel, and 2) the most recently available 12 months. Commercial flight schedules are consulted in order to identify flights where travellers from targeted countries can be intercepted. The airports surveyed in this quarter were Halifax, Montreal, Toronto Pearson, Calgary, and Vancouver.

For total trip counts, the numbers of American and overseas visitors to Canada are benchmarked to the administrative counts of entries to Canada provided by Frontier Counts.

Instrument design

The AES questionnaires are completed on electronic tablets by Statistics Canada interviewers at selected Canadian airports. Responding to the survey is voluntary. The questionnaires are used to secure quarterly information on the characteristics of American and overseas travellers to Canada and trips. These details include purpose of trip, size of travelling party, places visited, activities participated in during the trip, length of trip and trip spending.

In August 1999, during the development of the AES for overseas visitors, some testing occurred in different airports. The main points observed during the testing were the time required to conduct the interviews, the quality of the data obtained from the distribution of the questionnaire by Statistics Canada interviewers versus personal interviews, the potential response rate as well as logistics required to conduct the interviews. As a result, personal interviews were chosen over the distribution of questionnaires.

Testing of the AES for American visitors occurred in 2011, which consisted of informal, face-to-face interviews with respondents awaiting their flight at the Ottawa International Airport. A team of four interviewers approached travellers and administered the questionnaire to non-Canadian residents. Respondents were also asked a few follow-up probing questions once the questionnaire was completed to gauge their understanding.

The use of tablets for collection of the AES data was tested in January 2017 at the Toronto Pearson International Airport and the Ottawa International Airport. Following the implementation of data collection via tablets (available in English and French) in March 2017, paper questionnaires are used only as a collection aid (Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin).

In 2018, the VTS replaced the American and overseas visitors to Canada component of the ITS. The Canadian traveller component of the ITS e-questionnaire was removed and the application was tested before implementation. No other changes were made.


The VTS is a cross-sectional convenience sample survey that targets all American and overseas residents entering Canada (with the exceptions mentioned previously). Historical data (2019 and the most recent year) extracted from the Frontier Counts system provides information about the number of visitors that came to Canada at each port of entry and is a basis for determining the number of AES interviews that should take place at each airport.

Data sources

For the air commercial portion of VTS, data are collected directly from survey respondents.

For the non-air commercial portion of VTS (land, water, private air), estimates are derived using a combination of collected AES data and historical non-air commercial information.

Benchmark counts of trips to Canada by region of residence and trip duration (same-day, overnight) are provided by Frontier Counts.

Error detection

All reported data on AES questionnaires are captured, coded, and verified. As part of the VTS modernization initiative, a new editing system had been developed in 2018 with a greater focus on automation. Manual intervention is only used when data fail edits, and an automated resolution is not available.

Some errors occur in the data capture process such as an incorrectly recorded field, or missing data on the questionnaire. Where possible, these errors are located and corrected.

Edit rules are designed to ensure the data are consistent with known characteristics, and that questionnaire entries are valid responses given the question. For example, some ports of entry can only permit certain modes of entry. If an automobile is recorded in a response as a traveller's mode of entry into an airport, then the data entry is corrected. To make this correction, the instance is investigated, and the mode of entry is changed accordingly. In addition, if all transportation costs are included in a package cost but are also included in the entries for fare to enter Canada and fare to leave Canada, then the entries are corrected to remove the duplication of reported expenditures.

During data analysis, several variables have been derived on the data file by combining items from the questionnaire in order to facilitate the analysis. For example, the AES asks respondents for information on any packages or inclusive trips purchased. This purchase is not reported in the expenditure section on spending while in Canada. Consequently, packages are separated according to the components covered within the collective package cost and added to the relevant expenditure categories. Another example: from the VTS definition of a trip, any exit from Canada marks the end of a trip; respondents might report several trips under this definition within their completed questionnaire. These trips must be separated to allow for consistent analysis. Finally, all variables that are required in further analysis are created and calculated.

VTS data may be subject to some degree of bias. For example, there may be undercoverage due to the fact that collection takes place in only five airports or due to the fact that collection only takes place during the day.


A certain amount of data imputation is performed in the AES whenever fields are missing within a questionnaire, or when an insufficient number of questionnaires are received to meet the VTS objectives.

In the VTS, the target population (international travellers) are partitioned into imputation groups (IG), based on port of entry and on selected traveller characteristics, such as country of residence, mode of entry and duration of stay. Total imputation (i.e., imputation of entire questionnaires) is performed for any IG for which we have received an insufficient number of questionnaires for a given quarter.

Estimates are generated by IG, and thus a minimum number of questionnaires must be used to provide quality estimates for the IG. In instances where the minimum number is not met by received questionnaires from the current quarter, a sufficient number of questionnaires, selected amongst questionnaires from the same quarter of the five previous years belonging to the IG, are added to the current year's sample of that IG for the reference quarter. For the second quarter of 2023, following a new collection breakdown between United States of America and overseas, there were two imputed cases for the air commercial portion.

These imputed questionnaires are duplicates of questionnaires that were obtained in 1990 for the same quarter and same IGs. When total imputation has been used in this manner, the quality of the subsequent estimates may be compromised due to limitations in available questionnaires that can be brought forward to the current quarter's sample. For example, if there are very few questionnaires available in past quarters, the current quarter's estimates may be of poor quality.


For estimation purposes, the responses obtained through the questionnaires are treated as a simple random sample from the total traffic in each stratum although the sample selection methodology is typically stint sampling. A stint is a predetermined time period during which sampling activity is taking place.

The calibration groups (or post-strata) are defined by three elements for overseas travellers:
• Country or group of countries of residence
• Trip duration (short and long)
• Region of entry.

For American travellers, region of entry and duration of stay (same-day/overnight, or three durations for some regions) are used. There are 16 calibration groups for the American visitors and 82 calibration groups for the overseas visitors.

From 2013 onward, a generalized variant of the raking-ratio is used for weighting adjustment of overseas travellers. This method, based on linear programming, ensures exact matching to constraints defined by country of residence, duration and region. Region of entry is included since the majority of overseas travellers arrive at a small number of airports.

The AES questionnaires are weighted using Frontier Counts totals extracted for each calibration group.

Without e-questionnaires, the non-air commercial traveller information is estimated using the air commercial traveller trend, the historical non-air commercial traveller information and the numbers of non-air commercial travellers extracted from Frontier Counts.

Quality evaluation

For AES, data quality is systematically evaluated every quarter. Under the usual operational conditions, the size of the questionnaire samples is adequate to permit quarterly estimation of expenditures at the national level, and annual estimates for certain provinces, provided that the assumption of negligible bias is not violated. However, some data for lower levels of aggregation and cross-tabulations are not sufficiently reliable to be published on a regular basis. 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.

Given the non-air commercial portion is modelled, quality indicators are not available for this part as well as for the combined air commercial / non-air commercial totals.

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.

However, caution should be exercised in time series analyses for the implicated provinces and at the national level.

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. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.

For this reason, identifiers are not included on some socio-demographic and geographic variables which could have been used to identify respondents. Other variables have been grouped into broad categories.

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

The quarterly preliminary results of VTS are produced using questionnaires for trips with a duration of up to 5 months.

The final quarterly results are produced with the annual release of VTS. These final results are produced using additional questionnaires, with trip duration of up to 8 months. All the processing as well as weighting are redone to include the questionnaires with longer trip duration.

Data accuracy

Data quality indicators, such as coefficients of variation, can be calculated only for the AES portion of VTS.

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