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Tourism Whistler continues to work on travel impediments

Airport access, tax rebates next on tourism agency's list

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Last fall Tourism Whistler took the lead in drafting several position papers for the federal government on impediments to travel, getting as close to an immediate response at that level on two of the four main issues.

The federal government has already simplified visa restrictions for Mexican visitors to make them easier than ever to obtain, although that still falls short of the tourism industry's request to get rid of the visa requirement introduced in 2009 altogether.

The federal government has also addressed the issue of admissibility — Americans with criminal records for misdemeanor offences like driving under the influence will no longer be turned back at the border.

But while progress is being made on those issues, at least two major impediments remain; air access continues to be a challenge for various complicated reasons, and the HST (or soon to be GST) rebate program still needs work to make B.C. an attractive place to travel.

Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher said she is pleased by the response of federal and provincial governments to address travel impediments, while recognizing that many of the issues — particularly air access — could take years to resolve.

"(Air access) is definitely a bigger nut, it incorporates huge policy, huge legislation changes," she said. "It will require the focus and attention of the federal government, the Ministry of Transportation, the airline industry, airports, provincial governments. It gets into federal and provincial taxation, customer demand, and competitive marketplaces. It's not easily fixed."

Despite the challenge, Fisher is encouraged that stakeholders are already taking a few steps to resolve the issues. Most recently, the province of B.C. agreed to refund a two per cent jet fuel tax for international cargo and passenger flights. For larger planes, that could result in $2,000 in fuel cost savings.

"Clearly Pat Bell and the provincial government have made air access a priority for B.C.," said Fisher. "It's embedded in the provincial tourism strategy, and we at Tourism Whistler have given our support and are prepared to travel to Ottawa to meet with the federal government."

Fuel taxes are just one layer of costs that will need to be addressed, as well as taxes, airport landing fees and other costs that either cut into airline profits or raise the price of fares for travellers.

One comparison between YVR (Vancouver International Airport) and Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, using 2008 figures, suggests that the difference in those costs is considerable.

For example, a northbound flight to Los Angeles includes $208.38 in additional costs for flights leaving from YVR versus $158.95 in additional costs from Sea-Tac. A southbound flight from LA into Vancouver includes $283.91 in costs, versus $160.03 for Sea-Tac.

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