The announcement to lift the visa requirements for Mexicans travelling to Canada will have a huge impact in Whistler.
On Tuesday, June 28, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the change will take effect on Dec. 1, 2016.
"It's been on the agenda for several months," said Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MP. When the Conservatives mandated the visa in 2009, she said the effect was immediate.
"It's been a top priority to establish our relationship with Mexico because it really faltered since the imposition of the visa. That was a diplomatic disaster," she said on the phone from Ottawa.
Dave Brownlie, Whistler Blackcomb president and CEO, said visa-free travel is great news for the resort.
"We saw business (from Mexico) fall off the cliff over the last couple of years," he said, adding that the numbers should increase once again. "From a business perspective, (Mexicans) come in large groups and spend a lot of money," he said.
The decision to allow visa-free travel follows heavy lobbying from various Canadian industries and key players — with Tourism Whistler among them. A lengthy tourism study last year showed that getting rid of restrictions, such as the travel visa, could allow Canada to reach a goal of 3.8 million new arrivals by 2017, bringing $2.9 billion of additional visitor spending and up to 40,000 new jobs.
Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, said there is a lot of excitement with visa-free travel.
"It will absolutely give us a competitive advantage and we'll be able to grow back the very lucrative Mexican market," she said. "They're big skiers and they also love coming in summer.
"Specifically in the Mexican market, you see large families travelling together — and what they were finding is that some members would have their visas approved while other members did not," said Fisher. "And the time frame around going through these approvals would sometimes take months, only to find they were denied their visa. It really did become a barrier to travel."
B.C. visits from Mexico increased 28 per cent in the first three months of this year. A study from the B.C. ministry of tourism released on June 22 shows an increase across the board — with visitors to B.C topping one million — the highest growth on record. Overall, it's an 18-per-cent increase from the same period last year. For B.C., the largest-increasing markets compared to the first three months of 2015 are: Germany, followed by China, South Korea, Mexico, Australia, the U.S., Japan, India and the U.K.
But for Whistler, Fisher said the resort's largest overseas market is the U.K. Fisher added it's too early to know how last week's approval of the Brexit referendum — in which Britain voted to exit the 28-member European Union — will play out here, but that market is a huge chunk of Whistler's business.
"We'll just have to see how that impacts the currency and travel to Whistler," Fisher said.
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