Five things not to miss in Puebla, Mexico for Cinco de Mayo (or any other day)

Cholula, Mexico

Cinco de Mayo is not just a day to score cheap tacos and margaritas. It commemorates a military victory over the French army during the Franco-Mexican war in Puebla in 1862. If you’re in Puebla, a 90-minute drive from Mexico City, on May 5, you’ll be swept up by the annual re-enactment, grand parade and festive concerts.

1) The 5 de Mayo memorial and museum

In the middle of a busy throughway on a hill overlooking the city sits a modernist stone monument decorated with bronze sculptures to memorialize the site where General Ignacio Zaragoz defeated the French at the famous battle of Puebla. While it’s an impressive sight, especially lit up at night, the best way to truly learn how the Mexican army won the day on May 5, 1862 is to visit the nearby twin forts of Loreto and Guadalupe.

Also in the area is an interactive museum that uses touch screens, 3D projections and downloadable content to transport visitors back in time to this pivotal clash that has become a symbol of Mexican defiance.

Read the rest of the story in the Vancouver Sun.

Make this the year you finally use a VPN when you travel

When it comes to protecting your personal information, using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when you use public wifi is a must, but using one also has the added benefit of potentially helping you snag deals from online travel agencies and, best of all, it’s even possible to set one up that costs you absolutely nothing.

Why use a VPN? Surfing public wifi can expose your personal data to cybercriminals who can potentially steal your passwords, access your accounts, and even infect your devices with malware.  A VPN makes those things a lot more difficult because it encrypts your internet traffic and the money saving part comes into play because it hides your IP address.

Set up a free VPN on your home router

You can set up your own VPN for free on the router you use at home if it supports Open VPN, an open-source server/client setup that lets you connect from a public network to your home router via an encrypted connection. It effectively allows you browse the internet from home no matter where you are.

It takes some technical know-how to configure your router if it’s supported, but there’s a strong possibility that it’s already installed, waiting to be configured. I use a TP-Link router and OpenVPN is baked right in.

When you configure OpenVPN, you’ll need to create a server certificate and a client certificate for each device you want to connect to your VPN. You also need to set up port forwarding and firewall rules on your router to allow VPN traffic.

You’ll then need to install OpenVPN clients on your mobile devices and import the client certificates you created. You also need to know your router’s public IP address or use a dynamic DNS service to access it from anywhere. I use No-IP, it’s free.

Too much work? Subscribe to a paid VPN service

If all that sounds too complicated, then you might be better off subscribing to an existing VPN service. You’ve doubtless been inundated by advertisements online and might be tempted to just go with the one whose ads you see the most, but you’d be better off to do a bit of research on which service fits your needs.

Reddit has some useful threads where users discuss the pros and cons of the different services available, like this one. That’s where I heard about OVPN (no relation to OpenVPN). They are based in Sweden and are reasonably priced. When I’ve needed technical support, they’ve been quick to help. I’ve been a customer for some time and can completely recommend them.

Book cheaper travel deals with a VPN

One advantage of a paid VPN service over a free one on your home server is that you can change your IP address to another location which tricks websites you visit into thinking you are located in a different country.  That can let you access different prices and offers on travel websites that are based on your virtual location, not your actual one.

Why does changing your geolocation using a VPN help you save money on online travel deals? There are several reasons:

– Online travel sites use dynamic and personalized pricing, which means they adjust their prices according to your location, browsing history, purchase history, and other factors.

– Online travel sites also use geo-targeting, which means they show different prices and deals depending on the country or region you are in.

– Online travel sites also use currency conversion rates, which means they convert the prices from one currency to another depending on your location.

How effective this tactic really is is up for debate. One USA Today writer recently tested the claims of a VPN service about how much money travellers could save by using one, but he was unable to replicate their results.

One small thing that is useful about changing your geolocation is it lets you access geo-restricted content online so if you subscribe to a service back home, you can still connect from abroad because they think you’re still inside your home country.

Stay connected using an esim when you travel

Travellers today have become used to the convenience of having the internet in their pocket, but public wifi isn’t always available and roaming data charges can be expensive, You can  switch SIM cards to that of a local carrier in the place you’re visiting, but that’s a hassle. That’s where esims, like ones offered by Airalo, come in.

Airalo esim is a digital SIM card that you can download and activate on your phone in minutes. On mobile phones that support this technology, you can get mobile data in over 190 countries for a lot less than you can from your own carrier, up to 90 per cent less. You can choose from a variety of plans that suit your needs and budget, and enjoy fast and reliable internet wherever you go.  I first heard about them from another travel writer and haven’t looked back.

I even upgraded my phone to a new model in order to take advantage of it.

With its inaugural flight to Tokyo, WestJet celebrates its first route to Asia

WestJet dreamliner

It’s a good day for Canadian travellers when another Canadian airline starts flying to Asia. In this case, it’s WestJet which celebrated the departure of flight WS80 from YYC Calgary International Airport to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport Sunday.

“Not only does this new route increase opportunities for business, leisure and cargo customers to expand their horizons in Asia, it also provides an exceptional opportunity to welcome transpacific leisure and business travellers direct to Calgary and Alberta,” said John Weatherill, WestJet Executive Vice-President and Chief Commercial Officer in a press release.

Tokyo service will operate on the airline’s 787 Dreamliner three times per week through October 28, and will return in Spring 2024. WestJet says that guests travelling between Calgary and Tokyo can expect an elevated experience onboard including Western and Japanese inflight meals, Japanese entertainment options and the comfort of Japanese announcements and menus.

“For decades, Japanese travellers have had a special relationship with Alberta. The Calgary-Tokyo flight represents an important opportunity to rebuild that bridge,” said David Goldstein, Chief Executive Officer, Travel Alberta.

WestJet’s non-stop flight to Tokyo is just one of many new direct services launching this spring. Travellers flying out of WestJet’s hub in Calgary can also connect to Barcelona, Edinburgh and five other European nonstop destinations as part of the airline’s international offerings.

Canada needs to compete on the world stage when it comes to tourism, says federal tourism minister

Even if Canada is blessed with some of the world’s most incredible scenery, fascinating history and rich culture, Minister of Tourism Randy Boissonnault thinks Canadians have to get serious about competing with other countries when it comes to attracting international visitors.

“For my whole lifetime, tourism just happened. People came to Canada and it was great, but now we’re realizing and waking up to what our competitors around the world are doing, which is seeing tourism as a key economic driver,” said Boissonnault in an interview for Tourism Week 2023, noting that the industry brings in $105 billion in revenue to Canada and over $45 billion dollars to the country’s GDP.

During a speech to kick off the week in Ottawa, he said that other countries are investing hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions, because they see the future of the visitor economy and Canada has to compete with them. He believes that Canada is rounding that corner and will no longer take a passive approach, but be more intentional in attracting high value guests to the country.

One of the ways they will do that is by bringing in more business events and sporting competitions beyond the elite international sporting events and major conferences that the country is already good at attracting.

“We now have a $50-million fund over the next three years that’s going to help Destination Canada to compete on the world level, and bring those kinds of properties to Canada in communities small, medium and large in both urban and rural settings.”

Boissonnault also sees great opportunity with Indigenous tourism which he says is a critical sub-sector to the Canada tourism industry. He also noted that it was the fastest growing sub-sector before the pandemic began, reaching revenues of $1.9 billion.

“To give you a comparator, the same year New Zealand was doing about $8 billion in revenue, so we’ve got a long way to go if we want to lead the world or differentiate ourselves,” he explained, but he added that Canada had an advantage in that many of its Indigenous experiences are Indigenous owned and led, which isn’t always the case in other parts of the world.

“There are a lot of opportunities around this country to do more in this space and part of its coordination, part of it is funding and part of it is continuing to partner with economic development agencies of provinces because they’re starting to realize how big of a draw Indigenous tourism is to their province and territory.”

With every province and territory having its own tourism ministries, there was a time that the jurisdictions competed, but Boissonnault says that there has been a more collaborative approach in recent years, citing Destination Canada’s North Star 22 strategy as an example. Launched just before the pandemic began, it draws together 22 of the largest communities in the country to work together to promote the country internationally.

“Even our counterparts in the U.S. don’t have something like that and North Star 22 has been a fabulous success from a data sharing perspective, from a coordination perspective. And I can tell you that even the provincial marketing organizations realize that without the Canadian brand, most people internationally don’t know how to find them. Even the rebrand here in Alberta is now Canada’s Alberta so when you market Alberta in New York City, you don’t do it without the maple leaf as part of it.”

So what is the next big Canadian tourism destination? Boissonnault couldn’t say, but he thinks it’s the sort of question that needs to be thought through and he believes the federal government can play a coordinating role through Destination Canada.

“When it comes to destination development, that’s the responsibility of the provinces and I would keep a really close eye on what’s happening in Alberta and Quebec, because both of their provincial governments are leaning in really closely with their tourism DMOs and provincial DMOs to do this kind of work and I see the change is happening, and I see it reflected in the numbers, too.”

No matter what steps Canada takes to attract more tourists, the Minister of Tourism said that quality is more important than quantity.

“I don’t think you’re going to see us in a race to get just more numbers here. We also want to attract high value guests who are going to understand stewardship of the land,” he said, adding that the federal government is working with the country’s tourism ecosystem to make it more sustainable, even regenerative.

He applauded the example of New Zealand’s Tiaki pledge which encourages incoming tourists to promise to leave the land as they found it and be mindful in their actions while visiting. While Canada has no such pledge, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) does have its Sustainable Tourism 2030 pledge aimed at businesses within the industry to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“At the same time, we’re going to have to continue to do what we’re doing in the government with our partners to green the economy. I mean, it’s a big country, right? You don’t get from Halifax to Vancouver easily and if you want it to be there in a day or day and a half, it’s going to be on a plane,” he said, adding that biofuels, renewable diesel and other efforts to get to net zero are important to reduce the environmental footprint of the tourism industry.

One of the biggest obstacles tourism faces in Canadas is labour which is why the federal government gave $4 million in funding last year to Tourism HR Canada, a national organization with a mandate aimed at building a world-leading tourism workforce.

“Why did we do that? Because we want to get the message to high school, college and university kids that you can have a long term career in the tourism visitor economy and it can blow your mind. If you take a look at my colleague, Gudie Hutchings, who before politics was an outfitter for 35 years in Newfoundland and Labrador and had a fabulous career doing that.”

The theme of this year’s National Tourism Week is “powered by tourism” and Boissonnault believes that it couldn’t be more perfect.

“Tourism is indeed a powerhouse. This sector runs on the hard work passion and innovation of workers and the small and medium-sized enterprises that make up the ecosystem and these are businesses that are owned by women, indigenous people, racialized Canadians members, of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, persons with disabilities and so many others.”

Calm Air introduces all-inclusive holiday packages for Northern Manitoba adventures

Enjoying the aurora in Gillam, Manitoba

When you hear about a Canadian airline pitching all-inclusive holiday packages, you think that they’re going to be talking about places that are somewhere warm, but Calm Air announced this week that they’re offering new all-inclusive packages for tourists seeking a Northern Manitoba experience to places like The Pas, Flin Flon, Churchill and Thompson.

The all-inclusive packages include flights, accommodations, meals, and access to excursions to immerse visitors in nature and experiencing everything from eating moose stew after a sweat lodge to snowmobiling across Lake Apthapapuskow, or watching the aurora borealis while enjoying a six-course meal. Guests will also enjoy guided tours, dog sledding, snowshoeing in the boreal forest, and Manitoba’s one-of-a-kind Tundra Buggy within a variety of packages.

“We partnered with operators from The Pas, Flin Flon, Churchill, and Thompson, with each destination boasting unique experiences,” said  Amanda Camara, director of marketing and brand management, in a release.

“For example, The Pas is focused on Indigenous spirituality and education while Flin Flon is focused on eco-tourism and keeping active. Thompson is highlighting their status as the wolf capital of the world and Churchill is focused on the Northern Lights. Four destinations all within Manitoba, yet four extremely distinctive and authentic experiences,”

The new vacation packages are designed to cater to all types of travellers, from adventure getaways, solo travellers to families.

“We are excited that Calm Air will be offering all-inclusive packages to visitors, which will allow them to experience the best that northern Manitoba has to offer,” said the Honourable Greg Nesbitt, Minister of Natural Resources and Northern Development. “As our tourist operators continue to recover economically, we believe these packages will not only attract new visitors but also encourage those who fell in love with the North once to return and experience another season or attraction.”

Kind of disappointed that Gillam isn’t on the list. Years ago, my flight was grounded there and a group of us spent the evening at the local Legion and when we left to return to our hotel, we were treated with the most spectacular Northern Lights display you could ever want to see.

Travellers can book their all-inclusive package to The Pas, Flin Flon, Thompson, or Churchill, by visiting or call 1-800-839-2256.