Around the world in the red

Passion for travel survives financial crunch

HI Downtowner’s Marcy Gibbs believes young people travel more due to fewer commitments and more disposable income. Chantal Degagne

Kiera Vespims has a passion for traveling. The Hostelling International (HI) Winnipeg Downtowner waitress has traveled to Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia and Singapore, and she is only 21.

For Vespims, traveling is about personal growth, independence and experiencing new cultures.

“Traveling is the allure and the mystery of what you’re going to discover,” Vespims said. “I love meeting people.”

While many are returning from winter holidays and students are planning their Reading Week getaway, traveling on the cheap is on everyone’s mind. Canadians love traveling so much, they spent $7.1 billion on travel abroad in 2008, over $2.9 billion more than foreigners did here, according to Statistics Canada.

This firmly places HI Downtowner guests Joaquin Rodino and Valentina Rivero in the minority. The 23-year-old Uruguay couple is in the midst of a cross-Canada tour, having recently returned from a trip to Churchill.

People will travel regardless of the economy. Why spend summer in Winnipeg when you can spend it somewhere else?

Laura Lindal, Travel Cuts

“It was incredible,” said Rivero, sporting a newly purchased Churchill hoodie. “Traveling opens your mind when you see how other people live.”

Rivero and Rodino plan on continuing out west to Jasper, Banff and eventually Vancouver.

Manitoba HI executive Marcy Gibbs said traveling provides a different educational experience than school.

“It’s about the experience,” Gibbs said. “It is more than just reading about it.”

Rodino, who works as a carpenter in Uruguay, loves checking out architecture in new places.

“He loves to see how things are built,” Rivero said. “He is also learning to speak English better.”

Gibbs said young people are at the point in their life where they are able to travel, due to lack of family commitments and mortgages.

“They have some disposable income and it is easy to travel for the first time,” Gibbs said.

Despite concerns, Gibbs feels tourism to Canada hasn’t been affected by the global economic crisis. The HI Downtowner has seen an increase in business since relocating to a bigger facility in 2007.

Manish Pandey, economics professor at the University of Winnipeg, said the travel deficit, resulting from Canadians spending more abroad than tourists bring in, is dwarfed by Canada’s overall trade surplus of $5.6 billion in November.

Laura Lindal, a travel consultant with Travel Cuts, said their business has not dropped at all.

They are also anticipating a busy rush in February and March.

“It’s our Europe season,” Lindal said, referring to the time when students think ahead of the end of term and begin to plan on traveling for the summer.

“People will travel regardless of the economy.”

“Why spend summer in Winnipeg when you can spend it somewhere else?” she said. “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone.”

Lindal said traveling signals a rejection of Western culture and the need to take a break.

“People have been traveling to India to take yoga classes and to Thailand to learn cooking,” she said.

Rivero and Rodino are not done traveling when they return home to Uruguay. They plan on traveling around South America for another 10 months.

“I hope I can travel all my life,” Rivero said.

Canada’s travel deficit has shrunk this year, fuelled by Canadians limiting their spending and tourists spending more here, suggests Statistics Canada.

Published in Volume 63, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 15, 2009)

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