Halifax Index 2020

Trade & Tourism

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Cruise Passengers and Air Cargo Break Records

The Halifax Gateway experienced another strong year of growth, setting new records in cruise passenger and air cargo volumes, and nearing the records for the number of air passengers and cruise ships visiting the city. Port cargo traffic volume was above the 5-year average, but fell short of 2018 volumes. With the extension of the PSA Halifax berth nearing completion, the port soon will be equipped to handle 2 mega container vessels at the same time.

Overnight stays in hotels and room shares grew at a healthy 10% rate – more than double the 10-year average annual growth rate. Three new hotels opened in 2019, and substantially more hotel room capacity is expected in 2020.

COVID-19 Impacts

The Halifax Gateway is a key trading node for goods travelling among Europe, Asia, and North America. The COVID-19 crisis caused major disruptions to supply chains and brought tremendous uncertainty to global trade flows. While the Halifax Gateway continues to move goods by land, sea, and air, the volume of goods has dropped significantly. Port cargo traffic suffered a 15.7% drop in Q1 2020 compared to last year. Automobile sales across Canada and the United States plummeted in April, and manufacturers shut down around the world. The CN Autoport, a key entry point for European vehicles entering the North American market, will suffer significant losses in volume as a result. Geopolitical unrest brings another layer of uncertainty to trade, especially given that the United States and China were the 2 largest export destinations for Nova Scotia goods in 2019.

Travel restrictions and limits on public gatherings have deeply impacted businesses in Halifax, hitting the accommodation and food services industry especially hard. The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC) reported that this sector suffered larger proportionate revenue losses and layoffs during the initial weeks of the COVID-19 crisis than any other industry in the region.

International travel likely will be limited through 2020, and businesses reliant on tourism from out of province will lose revenue. Under 10,000 passengers flew through the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in April 2020 – a paltry 3% of the usual 350,000+ passenger volume. Discover Halifax is reworking the Integrated Tourism Master Plan originally scheduled for release in spring 2020 to prioritize the safety of residents and visitors so the tourism sector can recover quickly and sustainably.

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Halifax Index 2020
Halifax Gateway

The Halifax Gateway is composed of transportation infrastructure such as the Port of Halifax, Halifax Stanfield International Airport, Halifax Logistics Park, CN’s Autoport and rail infrastructure, and the Port of Sheet Harbour. The gateway set new records in cruise passenger and air cargo volumes in 2019 and came very close to the records for air passenger volumes and cruise ship visits. Due to limitations on trade and travel resulting from COVID-19, however, many of these numbers will drop significantly in 2020.

Following 2018’s record-breaking year with 198 cruise ships arriving in Halifax, 2019 had the second highest number of visiting cruise ships at 179. Despite a decline in the number of cruise ships, 2019 still set a record for the number of visiting passengers at 323,709, a 2.2% increase from the previous year. This combination of more passengers on fewer ships indicates that larger cruise ships are visiting our city.

Both port-wide cargo and cargo shipped through Halifax Port Authority (HPA) facilities saw modest declines in volume through 2019, decreasing by 4.1% and 0.1%, respectively. However, 2019 still proved to be one of Halifax’s strongest years with the second-highest results for HPA containerized cargo. In 2019, PSA International purchased the Halterm Container Terminal, rebranding as PSA Halifax. Extension of the main berth to allow capacity for 2 mega container vessels is expected to be completed in the summer of 2020.

Halifax Stanfield welcomed 4.2 million passengers throughout 2019, the second-highest number ever behind 2018’s record 4.3 million passengers. Air cargo hit a new high of 41,129 metric tonnes, an increase of 11.3% from 2018’s previous record.

Units Indicated in Table, Halifax, 2018 to 2019


Air Passengers (En/Deplaned)

Cruise Passengers

Plane Movements

Cruise Ships

Port Cargo
(Metric Tonnes)

HPA Port Cargo (TEUs)

Air Cargo (Metric Tonnes)

















Source: Various, including Statistics Canada, Port of Halifax, Halifax Stanfield

Halifax Gateway

  • Records were set in 2019 for cruise passengers and air cargo, and numbers neared the records set in 2018 for air passenger volumes and cruise ship visits.

Halifax Index 2020

The tourism industry has experienced strong and steady growth, cementing itself as a key player in the city’s economy. Discover Halifax estimates that the tourism industry employs 34,000 people across 4,000 businesses.

2019 was another great year for the industry as overnight stays grew by 9.8% for a total of 1.9 million stays in hotels and room shares.

Hotels have seen consistent annual growth in overnight stays since 2012. Hotel stays grew at a healthy 3.6% rate, outpacing 2018 by 50,350 nights. Hotel room capacity throughout the city increased by 342 rooms (+6.2%) with the opening of 3 new hotels. Colliers International expects Halifax’s hotel supply to grow more than any other Canadian city throughout 2020, as construction wraps up on new hotel properties like the 262-room Sutton Place Hotel and the 110-room Queen’s Marque boutique hotel.

Room shares through platforms like Airbnb experienced tremendous growth over the last 5 years, with overnight stays increasing by more than 1,300% since 2015. In 2019, there were 442,867 overnight stays booked in room shares, over 120,000 more than in 2018 (+37.3%).

Tourism is one of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis due to travel restrictions, social-distancing requirements, and limits to public gatherings. Discover Halifax has postponed the launch of the Integrated Tourism Master Plan originally scheduled for release this spring and will revise the plan to be “a critical part of Halifax’s success rebounding from this challenging time and helping our economy recover.”

Source: Discover Halifax, Year End Key Performance Indicators (2019-20)

Overnight Stays in Hotels and Room Shares

  • Total overnight stays grew by 9.8% in 2019, more than double the 10-year average annual growth rate of 4.8%.
  • Overnight stays in hotels increased by 50,350 stays (+3.6%) through 2019.
  • Overnight stays in room shares increased by 120,271 stays (+37.3%) through 2019.

Source: Discover Halifax, Year End Key Performance Indicators (2019-20)

Hotel Room Supply

  • Hotel room capacity throughout the city increased by 342 rooms (+6.2%). The daily hotel room supply in Halifax grew at an annual average of 1.5% (AAGR) over the last 5 years.
  • According to the Colliers International 2020 Canadian Hotel Investment Report, Halifax’s hotel supply is expected to grow by almost 9% throughout 2020 – a higher forecasted rate than any other Canadian city and more than double the second-fastest rate forecasted, which is for Toronto West.

Living & Affordability

Many quality of life indicators showed positive movement in 2019, including growth in purchasing power, improved levels of consumer debt, and a record high for overall quality of life. Housing affordability remains a growing and urgent concern. 



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