By Jonathan Jucker Original Print Publication: April, 2008
Most Mexicans don’t have much experience shoveling snow, but one family, arriving for a holiday at the central Ontario cottage community of Williams Landing last December, got a real taste of winter. A blizzard had left snowdrifts so deep that their taxi couldn’t make it to their cottage, forcing them to shovel a 200 yard path to the door.
Image: Marc Cuellar-Roehri
The Canadian colors flying over Waterton National Park.
Arturo Casso and Tania Lozano, two young professionals from Mexico City, traveled to Canada in November 2006 and had a more representative experience. They visited a friend in Toronto and then joined a coach tour to Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Montréal, and Québec City. Their itinerary reflects the most popular destinations for Mexican tourists: over 60% visit the province of Québec, and 51% go to Ontario (like Tania and Arturo, many visit both). The next most popular destination is British Columbia, attracting 19.7%of Mexican visitors. Urban centers are the prime draws, but ski resorts like Whistler and Mont-Tremblant are also popular, and Niagara Falls remains a perennial favorite.
Whereas many Mexicans travel to the US to visit friends and family, the lack of a significant Mexican immigrant community in Canada (just 42,740 according to the 2001 census) means that most tourists come to explore. According to the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), more than a quarter-million Mexicans visited Canada between January and November 2007, making Mexico the sixth–largest source of tourists to Canada (following the US, UK, France, Japan, and Germany). More importantly, this number is up 17.5% from the same period in 2006, by far the highest growth rate of any of the major source countries.
A survey of middle-class and affluent Mexicans conducted for the CTC by the Menlo Consulting Group, Inc.. indicates that these numbers are just the beginning. Vacationing in Canada appealed to 75.9%of respondents, but despite this high level of interest, only 16.2% had actually made a trip. This is in marked contrast with the case of the US: of Mexicans who indicated a desire to visit there, 87.7% had done so. The significant gap indicates a major opportunity for the Canadian tourism sector, and stepped-up marketing should enable the industry to capitalize on this sizeable latent demand.
One such effort is being undertaken by Jaime Horwitz, President and Chief Executive of CanadaenEspanol.ca, deMexicoaCanada.ca, and Canadamigos.com, a network of websites dedicated to the promotion of Canada to Hispanics around the world. He combines internet marketing, social networking sites, and blogs to attract potential visitors. Horwitz agrees that much more can be done to increase Canada’s visibility among Mexican tourists: “Much of the marketing that has been used in recent years is quite conventional, albeit important. Many tourism businesses in Canada have not realized the potential yet… even though many are now considering Mexico an important market that deserves more attention.” The Canadian government and tourism industry, he says, have trouble competing with the massive advertising budgets of destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando, but there are a number of factors that work in Canada’s favor.
One is the relative ease of travel: unlike the US, Canada does not require visas for tourists from Mexico, only a valid passport. Another draw is Canada’s positive reputation. César Albarrán, a Mexico City film writer, cites this as a reason why his parents sent him to learn English at a Canadian summer camp when he was eleven: “They thought Canada seemed more friendly [than the US].” He returned for nine summers as a camper, then as a counselor, and has since vacationed in Canada on multiple occasions.
Tania and Arturo also cite this positive image: “The people there were so open and friendly.” They were hard-pressed to recall any negative experiences during their two-week stay: aside from the November weather, an indistinct holler from a passing car in Toronto and a rigorous but polite interrogation by immigration personnel were their worst recollections. They count themselves as part of the 85.4% of Mexican visitors to Canada who would like to return, with one condition: as Tania says, “Only in the summertime.”
Where to go
Canada’s maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland) are popular with visitors from all over the world, but for Mexican tourists it’s undiscovered country. They are missing breathtaking scenery, friendly people, and great folk music. Seafood lovers can sample traditional fishcakes at wharfside restaurants in picture-postcard fishing villages like Peggy’s Cove, Lunenberg, and Hall’s Harbour; or experience world-class fine dining at a vineyard restaurant in Nova Scotia’s lush Annapolis Valley.
History buffs will love colonial Halifax; the Viking ruins at L’Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland; and Grand Pré, Nova Scotia (immortalized by Longfellow’s poem Evangeline). Finally, kids of all ages shouldn’t miss the home of Anne of Green Gables in Prince Edward Island.
Jonathan Jucker is Canadian. He can be reached at email@example.com.