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Asian visitors slow to return to B.C. post-pandemic

Visitor counts from the continent in April were down 42.3 per cent from the same month in 2019
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An Air Canada plane flies out of Vancouver International Airport.

B.C. continues to be unable to attract anywhere near as many Asian visitors as it did pre-pandemic, and the slow uptick in non-stop flights to mainland China is one main reason. 

Asian visitors to B.C. are key to helping the B.C. tourism sector recover from business disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. New data from Statistics Canada today, however, show that the trend of fewer Asian visitors to B.C. is continuing. The number of Asians who visited Canada through B.C. in April was 42.3 per cent below the number of those visitors in April 2019, before the pandemic virtually halted air travel. 

There were 40,865 visitors from Asia to Canada through B.C. ports in April, according to Canada's number crunching department. That is up 120.6 per cent from the 18,519 Asian visitors to the province in the same month in 2022 but significantly below the 70,765 Asians who visited Canada through B.C. in April 2019. Back in April 2021, only 3,642 people from Asia visited B.C., Statistics Canada data show. 

The main reason for the decline in visits to B.C. in April from Asians, compared with April 2019, is that airlines are flying far fewer flights between Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and mainland China. 

Pre-pandemic, eight airlines flew a total of 53 non-stop flights between YVR and mainland China. Four airlines now fly seven weekly non-stop flights to mainland China out of YVR.

Air Canada flies four times per week to Shanghai. Three Chinese carriers operating out of YVR include Xiamen Air, Hainan Airlines and Sichuan Airlines.

The carriers that have yet to restart flights are:
•Air China;
•China Southern;
•China Eastern; and 
•Beijing Capital Airlines.

Destination BC data show that non-U.S. international visitors spend more per person on trips to B.C. than do Americans or domestic tourists. Mainland Chinese visitors were the highest-spending international visitors pre-pandemic, laying out an estimated $2,021 per person, Destination BC told BIV last year. 

The Vancouver Airport Authority this morning provided data to BIV that show that in April airlines flew planes with about 228,000 seats on routes between YVR and Asia. That is up 103.6 per cent from the approximately 112,000 seats on airplanes that flew between Vancouver and the Asian continent in the same month in 2022, but down 43.1 per cent from the 401,000 seats on airplanes that flew those routes in April 2019. 

Overall, there has been a significant increase in non-resident visitors entering Canada through B.C., with 464,041 such visitors in April. That is up 59.6 per cent from 290,812 of those visitors in April 2022. The number of non-resident visitors entering Canada through B.C. in April 2019, however, was 529,609 – up 14.1 per cent from April. 

Today's data from Statistics Canada also showed that Canadians are taking more trips outside the country this year compared with 2022, but travel hasn't yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

gkorstrom@biv.com

twitter.com/GlenKorstrom