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Cruise disembarkations sail past pre-pandemic levels in 2023

February 16, 2024, 11:00 a.m. (EST)

The United Nations will mark the first ever Global Tourism Resilience Day on February 17, 2024, to promote sustainable tourism and help the sector navigate potential future travel disruptions, such as the one the world just witnessed during the pandemic.

In 2023, US-resident arrivals in Canada by land (79.9% of 2019 arrivals) and air (83.8% of 2019 arrivals), as well as overseas-resident arrivals by air (81.7% of 2019 arrivals), remained below pre-pandemic levels. However, cruise vacations have proven to be among the most resilient types of travel in Canada, with disembarkations surpassing pre-pandemic levels before the end of the 2023 season.

Short cruising season in the Great White North

The cruising season in Canada generally picks up steam in April and sputters out near the end of September, weighing anchor following the Thanksgiving weekend in October.

All cruise data are collected at travellers’ first port of call in Canada. Cruise arrival data include the 11 ports of call that receive large cruise ships and the approximately 30 ports where cruises or other smaller commercial boats may disembark.

During the 2019 cruise season, prior to the pandemic, Canada’s West Coast accounted for 78.3% of cruise arrivals; the East Coast, 21.2%; the Arctic, 0.3%; and the interior, 0.1%. Canada’s most-arrived-at ports of call are Victoria and Vancouver on the West Coast, Saint John and Halifax/Dartmouth on the East Coast, and Iqaluit in the Arctic.

Cruise industry hit rough water during the pandemic

From 2005 until the 2020 season, over one million cruise passengers a year disembarked on Canadian shores.

Our world was upended in early 2020, and cruise travel was among the first and most highly publicized industries stricken by COVID-19. With the implementation of a global travel ban to slow the spread of COVID-19, cruise arrivals sank to 99.95% below pre-pandemic levels and were virtually non-existent in 2020 and 2021.

Full steam ahead for cruise arrivals in 2023

Cruise arrivals quickly made headway with the easing of public health travel restrictions in early 2022. A total of 1.2 million passengers disembarked, over four-fifths (84.2%) of the 2019 total.

The cruise season was ‘full steam ahead’ in 2023, equalling the pre-pandemic total of 1.5 million arrivals by mid-September and ending the cruise season with 1.8 million arrivals in Canada, exceeding the 2019 total by just over one-quarter (+25.5%).

Who cruised to Canada in 2023?

Most cruise passengers stepping ashore in Canada are American residents, mostly in transit to and from Alaska and the mainland United States. US residents accounted for over three in four (78.6%) cruisers arriving in Canada in 2023, which is in line with the trend observed in 2022 (81.6%) and 2019 (73.0%). British Columbia was where the majority of US cruisers disembarked, with Victoria (57.2%) topping Vancouver (21.4%) by a wide margin as the most popular port of arrival.

Residents of overseas countries—the term used to refer to all travellers, excluding Canadian and US residents—also helped buoy cruise visits to Canada with 206,800 arrivals in 2023, accounting for 11.3% of all disembarkations. Just under three in four residents of overseas countries disembarked in Vancouver (37.8%) or Victoria (34.7%) as their first port of entry into Canada.

The United Kingdom was the second most important market for cruise arrivals to Canada in both 2019 (56,500 disembarkations) and 2023 (40,100 disembarkations). Australia ranked third with 25,800 disembarkations in 2023, followed by Mexico (21,500) and Germany (15,200).

Almost two-thirds of Canadian residents cruising in home waters disembark in Vancouver

Just over 1 in 10 cruise passengers (10.1% or 184,200 people) who stepped ashore in a Canadian port in 2023 was a Canadian resident.

Unlike their neighbours to the south, Canadian-resident cruisers were much more likely to disembark in the Port of Vancouver (64.3%) than in Victoria (24.2%) as their first port of re-entry into Canada. Relatively few Canadian residents disembarked in Saint John (3.4%) or Halifax/Dartmouth (3.3%) in 2023.

Looking for more travel data adventures?

Frontier Counts data provide a snapshot of travel to Canada every month through a variety of releases, most notably through our monthly “Travel between Canada and other countries” release in the Daily and our Frontier Counts: Interactive Dashboard.

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