March 2019 and the Easter Effect

The Easter Effect

Canada saw a 4% decline in international arrivals in March 2019. While at first glance this might seem like a negative trend, it is actually not unusual to see this kind of fluctuation in March and April, due to a trend known as the “Easter Effect”. 

For countries that celebrate Easter, the holiday weekend is a key travel period. This includes some of Canada’s biggest inbound travel markets, such as the US, the UK, and Mexico, so we typically see a big jump in visitors to Canada in the month of Easter. However, since the date of Easter changes every year, that extra boost from Easter holiday weekend travel does not always occur in the same month, and that shift can result in some exaggerated year-over-year variations in monthly arrivals numbers. (Note: A similar trend can be seen in arrivals from China in January and February, which are heavily skewed by which the timing of Chinese New Year.


Frontier Arrivals March and April 2016-2019


For this reason, the Consumer and Market Intelligence team at Destination Canada recommends that international arrivals for March and April should be evaluated together when looking at year-over-year trends. 


IPIL data helps understand the Easter Effect trend

A good source of data to understand the impact of the Easter Effect is the Integrated Primary Inspection Lane (IPIL) data, which is a reliable leading indicator of vehicle arrivals from the US. Since US vehicle arrivals are the largest source of visitors to Canada (accounting for approximately 57% of US arrivals, and 39% of total international arrivals), the daily-level detailed IPIL data can help us better understand the Easter-related swings between months.  


IPIL Daily Arrivals March and April 2016-2019


Daily-level data gives us a more complete picture for vehicle arrivals than monthly-level data. By comparing the present year with past years we can see how much of an impact the timing of the Easter weekend has on March and April arrivals. 

We can see that vehicle arrivals during the Easter weekend are almost double that of any other weekend in March and April. With so much of our vehicle overnight arrivals coming on weekends, the additional traffic of what is essentially equivalent to an extra weekend translates into significant month-to-month fluctuations. 

The IPIL data is also a valuable resource because the data is captured and processed within 10 days following the end of a month, compared to 6 weeks for the Frontier Counts for total international arrivals. So while total arrivals data for April 2019 is not yet available, we can look at the IPIL data and see that when we combine March and April and compare year-over-year, 2019 arrivals are ahead of 2018 arrivals for the same period, with an annual difference of +5.8%! 

Combined IPIL overnight vehicle arrivals from the United States in March and April
Year IPIL Overnight Arrivals Estimated Year-over-year
2016 784,600  
2017 770,750 -1.8%
2018 772,105 +0.2%
2019 816,850 +5.8%


Understanding the historical impact of the Easter Effect, and with the help the IPIL data, we can see that the year-over-year drop in March 2019 arrivals is actually in line with expectations for this period, and we can anticipate a likely recovery in April 2019.


Posted: June 14, 2019

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