By Clare Ogilvie
The first annual Mexican Ski Challenge event in Whistler was a great success.
More than 130 Mexicans came to the resort to take part in the weeklong festivities, ski race training, and cup race, which ran Feb. 10 to 17.
While some of the Mexicans who came could hold their own on the course others, more used to the sunny pastimes of golf and tennis, were challenged to the end.
But all, said Tourism Whistler’s director of sales Karen Goodwin, thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.
“Race day was certainly a hoot,” she said.
The event was organized, said Goodwin, to grow travel from Mexico outside of the traditional busy times of Easter and Christmas. Several sponsors were also involved, including Cuervo and Corona, and Tourism B.C. and Whistler-Blackcomb also supported it.
It’s hoped next year that more tour operators will take the event on board and it will be sold across the country.
Goodwin believes that as many as 400 Mexicans could come to Whistler next year for the Mexican Cup race.
The event’s popularity will no doubt be helped by Mexican media coverage. Mexico’s equivalents of ABC and NBC news — Televisa and Azteca TV — were in Whistler covering the event and Mexican radio station Imagen also broadcast live.
Goodwin said part of the challenge of driving the Mexican market is air access. Right now Mexicana Airlines and Japan Airlines have direct flights but Air Canada is concerned that the market cannot be sustained.
“… This was designed to create incremental demand outside of their peak (visiting times) time and to also show the airlines that we can grow demand outside of those time frames because we are having challenges with air access into Vancouver from Mexico,” she said.
So showing the airlines that Whistler can grow the demand for non-family travel time “is one of our goals, absolutely,” said Goodwin.
“Mexicans account for one to two per cent of market share and we are seeing that growing.
“Mexican visitation into Canada and into B.C. is definitely growing and we are part of that.”
The UK Market is also showing strong results, said Goodwin, with a nine per cent growth in December. January’s figures are still being tabulated.
Goodwin believes the success can be attributed to a strong marketing campaign, which has been running since last summer and still continues, and the lack of snow in Europe this winter.
“…Typically the bookings are usually done by Christmas but what we have found is that all of our partners in the UK were still booking like crazy come January because of our strong snow message,” said Goodwin.
“One of our last campaigns was an e-mail blast to the Ski Club of Great Britain and right off the bat we were seeing immediate results of people e-mailing us and saying, ‘Give us a quote. I normally go to France, but I would love to try Canada. I thought it would be expensive but I have heard about all your snow and maybe its time to try it.’”
Goodwin said there are also strong numbers coming out of Germany.