Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
TORONTO — It’s been a banner year in tourism for the province of British Columbia, thanks in large part to two main factors: increased international visitation and Canada’s sesquicentennial.
While in Toronto on a media tour, representatives from B.C. tourism boards told Travelweek that visitation has spiked following Canada’s decision to lift the visa requirement for Mexican travellers as of Dec. 1, 2016. Add to that an increase in airlift (Aeromexico going double daily starting June 1) and a renewed interest in domestic travel for Canada’s 150th anniversary, and you get an uptick in inbound markets across the board, including Mexico (up 33% in 2016 over 2015), China (+18%) and the United States (+10.9%).
On the domestic travel front, Saschie Maclean, Communications Specialist, North America for Tourism Vancouver, said that year-to-date numbers are slightly down (-0.3%), though traffic is expected to pick up during peak summer months. She hopes that the upcoming fall opening of the brand new Parq Vancouver complex – featuring the first JW Marriott in Western Canada – along with the recent opening of Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver will help fuel interest.
“These two new luxury properties should help with occupancy,” she said. “As luxury hotels, they’ll give Vancouver a nice mix of properties for visitors to choose from.”
Vancouver is gearing up for a busy summer season, focusing largely on its Canada Day celebration that’s being billed as the biggest one outside of Ottawa. Party revellers can expect a parade of food trucks, bands, fireworks, a two-day family festival and weekly celebrations taking place at Canada Place.
As for year-round festivities, Central City Brewers + Distillers has announced a country-wide collaboration with breweries from all 12 provinces, while Edible Canada, the nation’s largest culinary tourism company, will lead a week-long ‘Over the Top’ adventure across the country from June 16-23. Also, Timber Restaurant’s Long Table Canadian Supper featuring make-em-yourself s’mores and gift bags is proving to be a hit among groups of 15 or more, as is The Loden’s virtual reality package, which includes tickets to FlyOver Canada, a virtual flight ride across Canada.
The festivities continue in Whistler, located 90 minutes by car from Vancouver and a mere 30 minutes by floatplane. Several hotels are offering commemorative packages, including Pan Pacific Whistler; ‘The Thrill Seeker’ package includes three nights’ accommodation for two and a Via Ferrata Climb tour, Ziptrek Sasquatch tour, and whitewater rafting, while ‘The Cultural Explorer’ also includes three nights’ accommodation for two and entrance to the Audain Art Museum and Squamish Lil’wat Culture Centre, Peak 2 Peak Sightseeing and a Valley of Dreams walking tour.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is also getting in on the fun with a new signature Canada 150 cocktail and ‘Wild Canada 150’ package, while the Four Seasons Resort Whistler has a Canada 150 Hunt Gather Fish Menu that features wine pairings with indigenous dishes.
Meanwhile in Victoria, Canada 150 celebrations will culminate with the 11-day harbor side festival taking place from June 21-July 1. Every day at Ship Point there’ll be live performances, with special guests playing on the Legislature Lawn on June 30 and Canada Day, plus fireworks, live music, arts and culture and local food truck offerings. Also a source of Canadian pride is Royal BC Museum’s newest exhibit, ‘Terry Fox: Running to the Heart o f Canada’ (now through Oct. 1), which explores the impact Fox had on modern Canadian life.
For those who need more incentive to visit B.C. this year, Sabrina Robson, Media Relations Specialist for Destination British Columbia, said there’s an interactive new way to map out their trip even before they book. Google Trekker, a new joint project by Destination BC and Google Canada, involved a team of explorers who spent 12 weeks mapping 200 treks through B.C. last summer, the biggest trekking mapping project by Google in Canada. Equipped with 40-pound Google Street View Trekker backpacks, they hiked a total of 1,000 kilometres to capture 360-degree images of trails and natural landscapes that are now available at bcexplorer.com/journeys. To complement Google’s footage, Destination BC also compiled interviews and photography that highlight B.C. from a local perspective.
“We are keen to encourage residents to explore our own backyard this year,” said Robson. “With Canada 150 increasing interest and Canada Parks’ free Discovery Passes (B.C. has seven national parks), there’s no better time to visit B.C.”
For more information on travel to British Columbia, go to destinationBC.ca.