30 May 2010

Mexican resentment lingers over Canada’s visa 'insult'

An RBD video filmed in 2005 in the Alberta Rockies

The matter of obtaining a visa for travel to Canada continues generating discontent in Mexico, some 10 months after the measure was imposed in a sudden and sloppy manner to stem a growing stream of bogus refugee claims filed by Mexicans.

President Felipe Calderón, as expected, raised the issue while visiting Canada last week. The Canadian government acknowledged shortcomings in the new process, but maintained the visa requirements would remain in tact.

Opinions on the visa issue vary in Mexico. Some consider it an insult. Others view it as a waste of time and money since they have few ties to Canada and would seldom visit. A few waiting in line outside the Canadian Embassy for their visa last summer told me they had no objection to the travel restrictions, but expressed displeasure with the seemingly lack of organization. One student from an expensive private university and frequent traveller to Vancouver told me she endorsed the idea, saying, "There are already too many Mexicans in Canada."

Hard feelings linger for many, however.

One friend, whose husband is Canadian, reported having to submit a letter from her in-laws, vouching for her visit - even though she had been a frequent visitors. If travel to Canada weren't so necessary, she says, "I wouldn't do it."

The fallout of the hastily imposed visa could unravel nearly two decades of promotional activities on the part of Canadian education and tourism officials, who successfully had promoted the country as an affordable, not-so-distant destination for tourism and study abroad excursions. The Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) even brought the sappy, teen telenovela Rebelde to the Alberta Rockies for a week of episodes, while the pop group RBD filmed a video on Lake Louise.

In a way, Canada became cool for many Mexicans - an odd feat for a country considered nice, but dull in many parts of the world.

The CTC figures that tourist visits to Canada have dropped by 33 percent since the visa requirements were imposed as the visa, a poor economy, sinking peso and surging Canadian dollar all combined to diminish interest in travelling north.

Signs of diminished interest in Canada quickly became apparent. AeroMéxico canceled its Canadian routes earlier this year - which it blamed on the visa - as the website Flightglobal reported the airline mostly served Mexican travellers on its Mexico City-Toronto and Mexico City-Montreal routes. Mexicana, meanwhile, has offered more seat sales on its flights to Canada and dropped its Mexico City-Edmonton route.

The exact economic impact of the visa is tough to gauge, but the CTC reported that over the past decade Mexico had been a focus country and, of the countries with CTC offices, Mexico had produced some of the best growth figures. The CTC put the annual the growth figure at 14 percent over the past decade. The CTC also classified Mexican visitors as "high value" as they are known for spending big while travelling abroad and are used to leaving the country for shopping trips. (Witness the glut of malls in such unglamorous destinations as the Río Grande Valley that cater almost exclusively to Mexicans, including Mexicans from places such as Mexico City.)

Expect discontent over the visa issue to continue simmering. In the meantime, here's my latest on the issue for Canwest News Service.

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