B.C.’s tourism sector is getting a boost from Mexican visitors.
Mexico is the only country to provide more visitors to B.C. in April and in May than in those same months in 2019, based on Destination British Columbia number crunching of Statistics Canada data.
The rationale for the jump in visitors may stem from what Destination BC calls “very active” marketing efforts. The destination tourism marketer, however, was also very active marketing B.C. in Mexico in April and May 2019, Monica Leeck, Destination BC's manager of market development for the Asia Pacific and Mexico told BIV.
The rationale may also be partly because larger planes are carrying more seats between Vancouver and Mexico and that cheaper fares ensure that more of those seats are filled.
Mexico had no COVID-19 travel restrictions during the pandemic but Mexicans would have been subject to Canadian restrictions at that time. The result is that there could have been a bit of pent-up demand to visit Canada, Leeck suggested. She added that U.S. visa processing may have slowed, compared with pre-pandemic, due to strong post-pandemic demand. That may have encouraged some Mexicans to visit Canada instead of the U.S.
Regardless, there were 17,288 Mexicans who entered Canada via B.C. entry points in May, up 75.4 per cent compared with May 2022, and up 34 per cent compared with May 2019, according to Destination BC data that it released this week.
A similar situation took place in April, when 18,217 Mexicans entered Canada via B.C. entry points. That was up 78.3 per cent compared with April 2022, and 23.1 per cent compared with April 2019, according to Destination BC.
One caveat, Destination BC noted, was that Statistics Canada collects data for Mexican visitors differently now than it did pre-pandemic.
In 2019, Statistics Canada only counted in its data overnight visitors. Its new system includes all Mexican visitors to B.C., even if they just stay a few hours of one day.
The vast majority of Mexican visitors likely stayed at least one night in B.C. in both 2023 and 2019, but it is possible that some Mexican citizens living in Washington State could have made day trips to B.C. in April and May, and that this skews the data, when compared with 2019.
Another explanation for the increase in Mexican visitors is that there are more seats on non-stop flights.
Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA) data show that in May 2023 planes between Mexican cities and Vancouver International Airport (YVR) carried 74,021 seats, up nearly 6.4 per cent from 69,578 seats on those flights in May 2019.
There were fewer flights on those routes (429 compared with 434 in May 2019) but larger planes were used, according to the VAA.
VAA’s director of air-service development Russell Atkinson told BIV that he believes most of the Mexican visitors to B.C. come from the Mexico City region. Canadians, he said, comprise most passengers on flights to cities such as Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.
VAA data for the Vancouver-to-Mexico City route show 124 flights in each of May 2023 and May 2019. Larger planes were used in May 2023, however, so the seat count jumped 6.9 per cent to 20,692.
Abbotsford International Airport general manager Parm Sidhu told BIV that his airport saw Swoop provide between three and four non-stop flights per week in April and May to sun destinations such as Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos. He did not have specific data for how many non-stop flights there were on those routes in April and May of 2019, but he said that demand was likely much stronger this year because Swoop for the first time extended its flights on those routes through the summer.
Swoop parent WestJet plans to take over those routes after it dissolves Swoop later this year.
The rise of ultra-low-cost carriers mean that the price of flying various routes between Vancouver and Mexico has fallen. Pre-pandemic, non-stop flights to Puerto Vallarta were often nearly $1,000. Recent searches for that route in November show flights that are less than $500 on Flair Airlines out of YVR.
It is unclear how many of the Mexicans arriving in B.C. in April and May were farm workers, compared to how many were farm workers in 2019, so that may be another explanation for the jump in visitors.
There has been no change to visa requirements in recent years.
Canada on Dec. 1, 2016, changed visa restrictions to allow Mexicans to enter the country with an electronic travel authorization that could be obtained online. Previously, they needed to go through a more cumbersome visa process.
That change prompted a jump in Mexican visits and non-stop flights in 2016 and 2017.
Aeromexico (BMV:AEROMEX), for example, launched daily non-stop flights between Vancouver and Mexico City in December 2015, in advance of the visa changes. It then increased its flight frequency to twice daily while also using bigger planes.
Aeromexico in May flew flights three times per day between Vancouver and Mexico City, up from two flights per day in May 2019, according to the VAA. Interjet and China Southern Airlines flew between Vancouver and Mexico City in 2019 and no longer fly that route.