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New flights strengthen Vancouver's tourism link with Mexico

Interjet becomes seventh airline to fly to Mexico from Vancouver International Airport
Tourists flock to this white-sand beach near Tulum, Mexico during the winter | BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock

Travel between British Columbia and Mexico is surging thanks to a significant increase in non-stop flights and greater awareness among Mexicans that they no longer need to get a visa to enter Canada.

Since December 1, 2016, Mexicans have needed only an electronic travel authorization that can be obtained online to enter Canada.

Mexican travellers to Canada through B.C. then surged to 13,573 in December 2016, according to Destination British Columbia. That’s up 69.1% from the same month in 2015.

Similar increases have been sustained in 2017, with a 43.4% increase in Mexican travellers to Canada through B.C. in August, which is the last month for which data is available.

Greater demand for non-stop flights between Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and airports in Mexico spurred airlines to respond.

The 2,472 flights expected in 2017 is 33.9% more than the 1,846 in 2016 and 88.7% more than the 1,310 in 2014, according to Vancouver Airport Authority data.

Abbotsford International Airport did not have data for total flights during past calendar years, but general manager Parm Sidhu told Business in Vancouver that the airport has three non-stop flights per week to Mexico this fall and winter versus only one weekly flight to Mexico last fall and winter.

Demand comes in part from B.C. and Mexico both enjoying relatively buoyant economic times. The November 2016 election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has talked a tough line on immigration and about Mexicans in general, may also have encouraged some Mexican visitors to Canada to fly non-stop, instead of stopping over in the U.S.

“The new Interjet service is a big win for us,” said Vancouver Airport Authority CEO Craig Richmond of Mexico-based value carrier Interjet’s decision to launch four weekly non-stop flights to Cancún and Mexico City from Vancouver on October 26.

“Our vision is to connect Asia and the Americas.”

In early 2015, the only carriers to fly between YVR and Mexico were Air Canada (TSX:AC), Air Transat (TSX:TRZ), Sunwing and WestJet (TSX:WJA). All but Sunwing have increased flight frequency in the intervening years.

Aeromexico (BMV:AEROMEX) launched daily non-stop flights between Vancouver and Mexico City in December 2015 and has since increased its flight frequency to twice daily while also using bigger planes.

Interjet chief commercial officer Julio Gamero told Business in Vancouver that his airline’s selling points include a lower price point as well as roomier seats.

(Chart: AeroMexico has led the surge in non-stop flights between Vancouver and the country of Mexico, although all of its 669 flights from Vancouver go to only one destination: Mexico City | art created by Randy Pearsall/BIV)

Initial tickets on Interjet's Airbus A-320 planes start at $519 to Cancún, for example, while providing passengers with 34 inches between seats, he said.

Those planes seat 150 passengers (all in economy class), and Gamero said some airlines try to fit more than 168 passengers into planes that size.

China Southern (SHA:600029) is the other new carrier this year on the route. It launched thrice-weekly non-stop flights in April but has had little impact for local travellers because China Southern is prohibited from boarding any new passengers in Vancouver.

“We don’t have what they call fifth freedom rights,” said the airline’s marketing and business development manager, Paul Chu, referring to the legal language for an airline’s right to fly between two foreign countries during a flight that originates or ends in the airline’s home country.

Canadians can board the flight in Guangzhou, stop over in Vancouver and then fly to Mexico City, but Chu said they’re not allowed to join the flight in Vancouver.

“Our flights do help the Canadian tourism industry because Chinese passengers could join a 10-day tour in Mexico and then, at the end of the program, stopover and spend three days in Vancouver before going home,” he said.•

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