Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete of Mexico Tourism Board

By Gay Nagle Myers
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete Even as Mexico’s international visitor arrivals continue to outpace 2011’s record numbers, tourism officials are looking at new strategies and directions to increase not only the number of travelers but also what they spend and where. In an interview with Mexico editor Gay Nagle Myers, Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, COO of the Mexico Tourism Board, discussed positioning and promotional initiatives aimed at the luxury travel market to showcase Mexico’s untapped and off-the-beaten-path travel experiences.

Q: Mexico’s visitor numbers in 2011 set records. How has 2012 held up thus far?

A: Our international tourism recuperated in 2011. The 22.7 million visitors represented a 2% jump over 2010 and a 0.2% increase over the previous high-water mark of 22.6 million visitors set in 2008. Year to date, we are 5% to 8% ahead in international air arrivals. In June alone, we grew by 10% overall, and the U.S. market was up 7%, Canada up 4%.

We remain the top international destination for U.S. travelers. We constantly monitor 70 destinations in Mexico in terms of visitors and occupancies, and right now we are 7.6% ahead of a year ago in occupancy growth. All indicators are going great.

Q: What are the target markets now, and what’s ahead in terms of initiatives and promotions?

A: We’re calling it a strategy of unique access. This is a result of our focus to get a larger share of the luxury travel market and a larger spend by that market. We are putting spend before volume.

We have visitor volume; now our focus is to escalate spend. To date, spend by visitors is up 7% over last year, but we’re not happy with this. Mexico has the potential to attract consumers looking for extraordinary experiences. We’re happy with the visitor volume, but we want to position Mexico in the top 10 of international destinations in terms of visitor expenditures. We’re in the top 20 now.

Q: So how will this work?

A. Mexico has long offered luxury accommodations in sun, sand and sea destinations. We’re developing promotions to highlight luxury and travel experiences in the other parts of Mexico and tying this in with offers of privileged access to various historical sites and cultural attractions to travelers willing to spend extra for these opportunities.

We have to have greater product differentiation and we must structure our cultural offerings to market them on par with other great sites around the world. A lot of our undiscovered offerings remain under the traveler’s radar.

Q: What sites will be featured, and when will this initiative roll out?

A: The sites haven’t been decided yet. We’re in a transitional period now before the new president takes office in December, but we’ll roll this out in 2013. Features will include private access to museums or custom tours of Mayan ruins not available to the general public. The program still is in the development stages.

Q: Where do agents fit into this?

A: We need to better educate them. We have done a great job of promoting sun and beach destinations. Agents have done a great job of selling them. But Mexico is not top of mind in cultural and adventure destinations. Nor is it in terms of visitor spend. We are focused on both issues, especially as they relate to the luxury market, and we intend to promote the hell out of them.

Q: How important is tourism to President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto?

A: Very. He has said that tourism will continue to be a top priority. One of his initiatives is to expand the existing tourism base.
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