Mexican tourist visa hitting Whistler businesses 

Tourism Whistler stats show steady improvement in visitor numbers

Some local businesses feel new requirements for tourist visas for Mexicans entering Canada are causing a profit loss during what used to be a booming season.

April is the month that Mexican nationals celebrate Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Since a 2009 tourist visa requirement was put in place to quell the number of Mexican refugee claims in Canada, Whistler's rental businesses say they have been feeling a pinch where they previously enjoyed the flush. However, information provided by Tourism Whistler indicates the numbers are showing steady improvement.

"It's a disaster, it's stupid, it's ridiculous. I'd say our numbers are less than half and it's not just Mexico, it's Venezuela as well," said Sandy Black, owner of Affinity Sports in Whistler and former Intrawest vice-president of retail and rental operations for North America.

"The process to obtain a Canadian visa for the Mexicans is very cumbersome, it takes a long time. They have to send away their airplane ticket and for the U.S. they can turn it around in 24 or 48 hours, it's way less of a hassle, so they're going to Vail. We've really lost the entire thing."

Black isn't the only rental business to notice a change. At Ski Butlers, a full service equipment rental operation, co-owner Karin Schulze said a dearth of bookings is suggesting a quiet April lays ahead.

"Unfortunately, I'd love to say 'yes, we have huge bookings,' but we haven't so far seen anything specific from the Mexicans yet," she said, adding that she's hoping for last minute calls from Mexican clients. "Previously we have had bookings by now. It's definitely a different year."

Efforts to regain the Mexican market have been made by tourist organizations like Tourism Whistler (TW) and Tourism BC, which have led to improvements in the application process. Visa documents previously only available in English have now been translated into Spanish and on top of their regular ski marketing, the two tourism commissions spent a week in Mexico City hosting reservation training seminars for travel operators on how to best guide their clients through the procedure.

"Certainly the first year it came into place had an immediate impact on business," said Kim Hood, sales manager at Tourism Whistler.

"Since that time there has been a lot of education on how to fill in the visa application - there were a lot of operational adjustments that had to be made, there was definitely an industry effort - we had to accept really quickly that this process was in place and not going anywhere.

"Considering that we lost a significant competitive advantage compared to when we didn't have to have the visa, in a short time we've seen some turn around but there is still work to be done for sure."


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