NEWS

End of the road for the great Canadian road trip?

05/13/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/12/2016 05:59 EDT
The days of packing bored kids and an overly excited dog into the station wagon and driving for days across the Canadian countryside seem to have come to an end, say Canadian tourism officials.

"The longer duration driving vacations of the past, maybe the '70s and '80s when that was more prevalent, we don't tend to see that.  And that was something that was a little bit eye-opening," says Greg Hermus, associate director of the Canadian Tourist Research Institute at the Conference Board of Canada.

Hermus is the author of the Board's Canadian travel intentions report.  The annual survey polls 1,500 Canadians on their summer travel plans. This year's survey was done in April.

Cheaper gas, weaker loonie

The results show lower gas prices (compared to last year) and a weaker Canadian dollar will help boost to domestic Canadian tourism, but not by a lot. 

Of those who say they will be staying in Canada for their summer vacation this year, 60 per cent cited the depreciation of the loonie as a factor in their decision. A U.S. dollar now costs more than $1.20 Cdn.

The Board also says the majority of domestic leisure travellers plan to use an automobile as the primary mode of transportation to get to their destination the summer. 

"Instead of having $1.25, $1.30-per-litre gas prices, we're looking at maybe $1.10," says Hermus.

"That's going to help domestic travel just a little bit, one to two per cent. The weaker dollar as well makes Canadian destinations more competitive, keeping Canadians within Canada."

But the Board says a weaker economic environment — subdued employment, GDP and income growth — has negated much of the positive influence of the lower dollar and cheaper gas prices.

Staying closer to home

And even those who plan to stay in Canada and drive to their destination, aren't straying very far from home.

"Those longer duration trips, say, trips lasting six or seven nights or more, Canadians weren't still looking to do more of that," says Hermus.

There could be a number of reasons for that.  Air travel is up, with passenger demand and load factors at record levels for many airlines, including Air Canada and WestJet.  

Canadians also don't get a lot of time off, averaging just 10 paid vacation days per year. That ranks 3rd last among 21 of the world's top economies.  Only Japan and the U.S. mandate fewer paid days off.   

Kids also lead much more structured lives these days.  Many children are in activities or camps throughout the summer.  Those cost money and parents may be reluctant or unable to spend the time and extra money on a long road trip.

Students are among those who still have the time for a long road trip, but even some of them are cutting back.

Newly minted university graduate Sara Martinez is on her way to Ottawa where she will be working for an engineering firm.  She and friends Laura Mejia and Cindy Corrales, both still students, are spending four days driving to the capital from London, Ont.  

They're camping in provincial parks, hiking and exploring along the way.

"At one point, we were thinking of going to the U.S., but in the end, this turned out to be better.  Less expensive, too." says Martinez.

"I didn't want it to be too expensive, so travelling closer to home was probably the easier way to go for me." says Mejia.

The Conference Board says there are some exceptions when it comes to planning a long road trip this summer.

RV travel bucking the trend

"Places like the Yukon, where you would see a lot of RV travel," says Greg Hermus.

Flight, train and bus travel options are more limited and often more costly and lower gas prices may encourage longer summer road trips in the North.

In fact, those in the RV industry say business is up overall.

Owasco RV Centre in Whitby, Ont., east of Toronto, says they're seeing a surge in sales.

"Our sales volume is up by 14 per cent (over last year).  Our rental business is up over 40 per cent." says sales manager Amy Closter.

Much of the boost in rental business is coming from Europeans looking to get value in Canadian dollars versus the stronger U.S. greenback.

But he says the sales increase is being driven mainly by Canadian buyers.  

"Especially with the dollar being where it's at right now, going down south is a lot more expensive than it used to be and RV'ing is actually 70 per cent cheaper than the average family vacation to the U.S. or Europe," says Chris Mahoney, executive director of Go RV'ing Canada.

Are we there yet?

"These days, everybody is overscheduled and there's a lot going on with families and families need to take a little bit more time and get away."

"That's the main reason to get RV'ing, because the road trip is actually bearable," says Mahoney

But short of an RV, whether it's in a station wagon, minivan or SUV, the days of long summer drives with kids fighting in the back seat and the dog slobbering out the front window may be coming to an end.  

MORE:cbcNews