Tourism Whistler troubled by Mexican visa issue 

Small but growing market may be hurt by sudden imposition of visas

Whistler's main marketing group is troubled by the brand-new rules affecting all Mexicans travelling to Canadian soil.

As of Wednesday morning, spokesperson Jeff McDonald said Tourism Whistler is "very concerned" that the federal government's attempt to tackle unregulated landed immigrants will burden Whistler's "small but very important and legitimate" Mexican tourism industry.

The new requirement, announced on Monday and implemented on Thursday, that any Mexican visitors entering Canada will now need a Temporary Resident Visa, caught Tourism Whistler off guard.

Karen Goodwin, director of sales, added Tourism Whistler is trying to figure out what the process would be like for Mexicans to receive visas and whether there is a fee charged.

If the process is easy, Goodwin suspects business to Whistler won't be hugely impacted.

Mexicans make up under one per cent of Whistler's summer visitors and between one and two per cent of annual visitors. Most Mexicans journey to the resort municipality during December for Christmas holidays and April for their Semana Santa two-week Easter holiday.

She said, though, it is stressful when the rules were changed overnight.

"Probably one of the most important things about this is it was our competitive advantage over the United States because Mexicans have always required them to get into the U.S.," said Goodwin.

"Now we have lost our competitive advantage, which is a shame."

Tourism Whistler is not alone in its concern. Canada's tourism industry was thrown into crisis mode Tuesday as tour operators around the country grappled with the abrupt changes.

Mexican visitors make up Canada's sixth largest tourist group, and in 2007, over 260,000 Mexicans travelled to Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizen, Immigration and Multiculturalism, said in a press release he decided to introduce the visas because refugee claims from Mexico have almost tripled since 2005. The sheer volume of these claims is undermining Canada's ability to help people fleeing real persecution, he said.

"The visa process will allow us to assess who is coming to Canada as a legitimate visitor and who might be trying to use the refugee system to jump the immigration queue," said Kenney.

"It is not fair for those who have been waiting patiently to come to Canada, sometimes for years, when others succeed in bypassing our immigration system."

The number of Mexicans visiting Whistler has grown in recent years, particularly during Semana Santa this year. McDonald said the Mexico market has "long been identified by Tourism Whistler as a secondary market with potential for growth."

Tourism Whistler also began flexing its marketing muscles this May to further drive up Mexican summer visits to Whistler in a joint campaign with the Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism B.C., Tourism Vancouver and Visa Mexico.

Meanwhile, even though Whistler hosted Mexican Ski Weeks in 2007 and 2008, the event was cancelled this year.

"The gentleman who used to organize it works with a Mexican inbound tour operator, and they decided to hold it this year in Tremblant," said McDonald, who did not want to reveal the organizer's name.

"But we understand it didn't happen because the major sponsor pulled out."

Whistler's Member of Parliament, John Weston, is currently travelling in Taiwan and couldn't provide comment about how the new Mexican visas could impact tourism in the Sea to Sky corridor.

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