Gen-X looking for adventure

Gen-X travellers are driving demand for active vacations such as heli-hiking in Alberta. -- Photo...

Gen-X travellers are driving demand for active vacations such as heli-hiking in Alberta. -- Photo courtesy of Tourism Alberta

DIANE SLAWYCH -- Special to Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

Here comes Generation X. The group of people born roughly between 1965 and 1977, is on the cusp of driving the travel market, taking that title away from Baby Boomers, says Hotel Association of Canada President Tony Pollard.

"This group is taking more atypical, offbeat vacations away from city centres than Boomers have traditionally sought."

They're also not averse to adventure and find excitement in outdoor activities such as surfing, heli-hiking and skiing and survival camping. Of all age groups, the highest percentage of pet owners can be found among Gen-Xers. Many don't have children and often travel with their animal companions. As a result, an increasing number of hotels are now accepting pets.

Travel trends were among the topics covered by executives from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC), and Best Western International, who met in Toronto recently to discuss the business and leisure travel market.

Here's another tip for those in the tourism business who want to attract more visitors: Put women at the top of your list. According to Dorothy Dowling, senior v-p marketing for Best Western, women are the most important consumer group, because they make 80% of decisions relating to family travel.

Best Western has attempted to reach this highly sought-after demographic with its current summer promotion that partners the hotel chain with YTV and the hit TV show The Fairly OddParents.


Other trends include the "grandtripping" phenomenon. More grandparents are travelling with their grandkids and, says Dowling, they appreciate hotels located near national parks, and properties that have provide breakfast and swimming pools.

So far, 2006 has been a relatively good year for domestic tourism. According to the Hotel Association of Canada/Fleishman Hillard 2006 Annual Travel Intentions Survey, the percentage of Canadians travelling in 2006 increased by 10 points over 2005, from 57% to 67%. The survey also revealed that Air Canada's load factor is hovering at 84% versus 79% last year, while WestJet is up to 77% from 71% in 2005.

Meanwhile, Best Western, "the world's largest hotel chain" with 180 hotels in Canada alone, reports North American revenues are up 11% over last year.

"Growth continues to be hot in Quebec, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada ... as well as Alberta, where we've opened nine hotels in the past 18 months," says Dowling.

On the downside, fewer Americans are visiting Canada. A recent U.S. study found the top three reasons why Americans aren't taking a leisure trip have to do with their ability to balance their budget, balance their work issues, and manage the chores building up at home.

Surprisingly, the cost of gas isn't keeping people home.

"The cost of gas is one of the smallest pieces of the financial pie," said TIAC President Randy Williams.


Another issue with repercussions for the Canadian tourism industry is the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). The U.S.-led program will require all travellers to present a passport or other appropriate secure document(s) when entering or re-entering the U.S. by air or sea after Jan. 8, 2007.

Williams said that although the effects of WHTI will not be fully realized until it is implemented for land-border crossings on Jan. 1, 2008, its $2.5 billion impact is being felt now and will continue to be a factor throughout 2007.

When the tourists do arrive who will serve them? Staff shortages are starting to be a major problem in Canada's service industry. Pollard described a recent visit to an A&W restaurant in Hinton, Alta., that had closed early due to a staff shortage.

"We can't get employees to serve in our industry and that will erode," further, Pollard said.

The industry is lobbying government to allow more workers in from countries such as the Dominican Republic and the Philippines to take work in hotels and restaurants in the peak season.