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Canadians to flock to sun, sand and blessed heat this summer

Cancun, Mexico.

Israel Leal/Associated Press

It looks like we're not over winter yet.

Though it's finally warming up across the country, it seems the rough winter looms large in Canadian travellers' minds: Early indications are that this summer, our plans are all about sun, sand and blessed heat.

No doubt some of this summer sun enthusiasm is the result of frustrated winter plans, says Brenda Kyllo, the Canadian Automobile Association's vice-president of travel.

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"Normally, a cold long winter is great for the travel industry, encouraging many people to make last-minute decisions to travel south," Kyllo says. "But this year it just seemed that the combination of worrying about frozen pipes at home, unpredictable road conditions and fear of getting stuck in U.S. airports due to snow storms … just kind of stalled some of the last-minute travel plans." The 8.6-per-cent drop in the Canadian dollar against the greenback in the January-March period (compared with the same dates last year) was also a likely contributing factor.

Now, judging by Conference Board of Canada survey figures and CAA data on early bookings and cross-country check-ins with affiliated tour operators, it looks like the pent-up demand is busting loose, with increases in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland (one of the two outliers).

In fact, 13 of the 15 summer destinations that have seen the highest growth are sun destinations, according to three of Canada's major travel industry players – Flight Centre, Google as well as CAA.

For Google, the story is in the clicks. According to Jennifer Kaiser at Google's Toronto office, the biggest upticks in summer vacation searches among Canadians are (in addition to the second outlier, Chicago) Cancun, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando and Rome. According to Google Trends data, searches for "beach vacations" in general have also surged to their highest point since 2010.

"In the last four years we have seen a slight but steady decline in searches for tropical and sun vacations," says Dennis Morgenstern, Google's head of industry for travel. "But this winter they jumped and grew 14.4 per cent. There seems to be a correlation here with the harsh winter weather."

Flight Centre, one of Canada's largest traditional travel agency chains, has noticed that bookings for Portugal and Turkey, two of the warmest spots across the pond, have risen by roughly 10 per cent this year. As well, both Peru and Costa Rica are continuing their four-year-long trend of extraordinary growth for Canadian travellers, with rises in bookings of 273 per cent and 850 per cent respectively since 2011.

The other destinations on the rise this summer are East and South Africa, Burma, Cambodia, Spain (except Barcelona, for some reason) and Vietnam.

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