British Columbians love to travel. But as with most things, our travel habits are changing. A recent conversation with one of B.C.'s best known travel experts underscored that fact while also reaffirming long held suspicions.
"The reality is the world is getting smaller and more accessible than ever," says Claire Newell, president of Travel Best Bets.
While previous "Price is Right" columns have highlighted British Columbia's robust tourism sector – which of course comes with ready made postcard scenery and unforgettable experiences – many of us are determined to get away this time of year to escape the rain, snow, and cold of old man winter.
According to Newell, this particular winter has seen a new twist.
"We definitely have noted a Trump factor," she says, confirming that Hawaii bookings have dropped off dramatically.
"There are a lot of people who won't go just because of Trump, especially immigrants who now hold a Canadian passport."
Notably, Statistics Canada has quantified the current trend, reporting that on average, the number of Canadian residents travelling to the United States in the second half of last year was 5.2% lower than the first six months of 2018.
Newell says Mexico is – by far – the number one destination for British Columbia's sun seekers, although there's also another factor that trumps Trump. Ka-ching, ka-ching.
"Value for money is so good in Mexico," says the well-travelled Newell, "anytime we see the exchange where it is now, Mexico is hot, Hawaii is not."
"Mexico loves Canadians," exclaims Angel Sarmiento, General Manager of the famed Las Hadas Hotel in Manzanillo – backdrop for the 1979 movie "10," starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore. (Who could ever forget Derek's slow motion jogging scene?)
"Canadians are well aware that the Mexican tradition is very friendly," says Sarmiento.
Asked why she has so many clients who pick Mexico for a winter getaway, Newell says it’s more than just weather:
"All-inclusive, it's something that B.C. residents especially love. It's complete and utter rest and relaxation. The toughest decision of your day is whether to order a Mai Tai or a Mojito!"
Sarmiento points out he has many friends in Canada who often tell him how welcome they feel in Mexico. And about that "Trump" factor, Sarmiento admits "at this moment in politics, we need Canadians."
That said, just last week the Mexican government released data indicating that the number of Americans visiting Mexico appears to be down this year, they still hold top spot for foreigners vacationing in Mexico, with Canadians a strong second.
A record 41.4 million international tourists checked out Mexico last year – up 5.5% over 2017.
As one of British Columbia's foremost travel experts, Newell is also quick to note a wrongly held perception about Mexico: safety concerns related to drug cartel violence.
"Sadly, it gets a bad rap," says Newell, who spent early January on a family vacation in Mexico. "I'm not going anywhere where my family isn't safe."
That same sentiment is echoed by Sarmiento:
"I lived for 4 years in New York and Chicago. When you come to a resort in Mexico, you never see guns."
Sarmiento points out that nearly two million Canadians visit his country each year and only a tiny fraction report a negative experience. That said, January's shooting in the Playa del Carmen region that left seven dead caused several in the travel industry to remind their clients to stay in the resort areas and not to get overly adventurous.
Of course, not everyone has a thing for beaches and palm trees. Back in her West Broadway office in Vancouver, Newell says a major shift is underway in the travel business – driven largely by millennials.
"Low-cost carriers around the world have opened up 10,000 new routes in just the past decade," notes Newell.
Today's travellers are determined to go where no one has been, leading to robust tourism growth in places like Ireland, Iceland, and Croatia. She also points out that Asia has a become a hot destination with five times more flights than just five years ago.
Among those travel trends:
- Immersion in cultural connections, like taking cooking lessons in Italy.
- Year-round travel as peak season means peak pricing.
- Non-traditional destinations like Norway, Finland, Denmark, Bosnia, Portugal, and the Middle East are growing in popularity.
- Skip-Gen travel...with more and more grandparents taking their grandchildren on overseas vacations.
To quote Shakespeare, "The world is your oyster."
Until next week, happy travels.
Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.