A ski week for Mexicans? Whistler promoters say ‘Si!’

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Visits to B.C. are climbing with more non-stop flights from Mexico City

Bruce Constantineau

A group of skiers from Mexico City, in Whistler for the second annual Mexican Whistler Ski Week, get ready to head down to the village after a day of skiing and racing. Mexico has emerged as a strong, growing market for the B. C. tourism industry.

Those 200 boisterous skiers swooshing, gliding and racing for trophies down the powdery slopes of Whistler this week represent a hugely promising B.C. tourism market — Mexico.

With no ski resort of their own, more than 150,000 Mexican skiers flock to winter destinations every year and Whistler-Blackcomb has gained prominence on their radar.

“They’re a lot more aware of Canada and it has become more trendy to travel here,” Tourism Whistler sales director Karen Goodwin said in an interview. “Many of them have been to Niagara Falls, seen the CN Tower and visited Montreal so they want to try something new.”

Mexicans are clearly more drawn to Whistler in the winter, as the resort attracts between 5,000 and 10,000 overnight visitors from Mexico between November and April, compared with just 1,500 between May and October.

Tourism BC figures show that 72,500 Mexicans visited the province during the first 11 months of 2007 — an increase of more than 23 per cent over 2006.

That’s more overnight visitors than the number from Hong Kong or Taiwan and only 7,000 fewer than Germany, a vital international market for B.C.

Travel flows between B.C. and Mexico are still heavily skewed in Mexico‘s favour, with 123,000 B.C. residents traveling to Mexico during the first half of 2007 compared with 34,100 Mexicans coming the other way. But the Mexico-to-B.C. figure was up more than 27 per cent over the previous year.

Whistler is capitalizing on the trend this week by hosting a bash — the second annual Mexican Whistler Ski Week — to promote the destination to well-heeled Mexican travellers.

The event features special ski training days, races, exclusive shopping, group dinners and apres-ski parties for Mexican visitors.

More than 200 people made the trek to Whistler from Mexico City this year, up from 130 last year, and they’re having fun.

Mexican tour operator Nathan Baker feels Mexicans and Canadians relate well to each other because they’re both so heavily influenced by their huge U.S. neighbour.

“We find Canadians to be very friendly and we appreciate that, too,” he said in an interview while enjoying a beverage with his fellow Mexican travellers this week at the Garibaldi Lift Co. bar in Whistler.

More than half the visitors on this trip came as guests of corporate sponsors but many heard about the event on Mexican radio and paid their own way, with packages starting at around $2,500.

Baker said about 20 visitors on the Whistler trip have never skied before but are keen to learn as they take advantage of lessons from resort ski instructors, some of whom speak Spanish. He feels Whistler has emerged as the third most popular destination for Mexican skiers recently — behind Colorado and Utah.

Mexican marketing consultant Arturo Cervantes — who conceived the Mexican Ski Week idea four years ago after seeing so many Mexicans in Whistler — said Canadian skiers have been patient on the slopes with some of the less-than-expert Mexicans.

“They’re very nice to Mexican skiers, even though they may not be very good,” he said. “Nobody gets into any trouble because they don’t ski well.”

Tour organizer Louis Miguel Fuentes said it’s easier now for Mexicans to travel to Canada than the U.S. There are at least 11 non-stop flights a week from Mexico City to Vancouver and Mexicans can travel to Canada without a visa.

“But you need a visa to get into the U.S. and sometimes it is very difficult to get one,” Fuentes said.

Tourism BC North American marketing director Carol Nelson said a growing middle class in Mexico with a growing penchant for international travel has prompted Canadian tourism officials to pay more attention to the market.

The Canadian Tourism Commission established an office in Mexico City five years ago and Tourism BC, which spent virtually nothing on marketing to Mexico just two or three year ago, now spends $250,000 a year on the Mexican market.

“About 13 million Mexicans travel internationally every year and Canada only attracts about 250,000,” Nelson said in an interview. “So there’s a lot of room for growth.”

She said B.C. received about $1.4 million worth of media coverage in Mexico last year, with about $400,000 of that generated by the first Mexican Whistler Ski Week. Tourism BC launched a new Spanish-language website two months ago, which has attracted about 5,000 visitors so far.

CTC vice-president of sales Andrew Clark said Mexican visitation to Canada has increased by about 25 per cent in the past five years.

“There’s some real enthusiasm in Mexico for some key Canadian attributes,” he said. “Canada is considered to be a beautiful country that’s very clean and very safe.”

He said many Mexican travellers to Canada are “high-yield, long-stay” consumers who spend a lot of money — an estimated $275 million in 2006.

“They like to travel in relatively large groups so they generate some very good spending,” Clark said. “They basically stay longer and spend more.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2008


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