Mexico enters 2013 with a new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, a new secretary of tourism, Claudia Ruiz Massieu Salinas, and visitor numbers for 2012 that appear headed to top 2011’s record of 22.7 million.
Ruiz Massieu, named by Pena Nieto and officially sworn in on Dec. 1, “has met with many in the private sector already, and her plans and strategies are 100% focused on the tourism job at hand,” said Alfonso Sumano, regional director for North America for the Mexico Tourism Board.
A 40-year-old lawyer, Ruiz Massieu was born in Mexico City, grew up in Acapulco, studied in Europe, served two terms in Mexico’s House of Congress from 2003 to 2006 and from 2009 to 2012 as well as three years in the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Public Security.
As tourism secretary, Ruiz Massieu, the niece of former president Carlos Salinas, enters office at a high point for Mexico’s tourism industry.
“It has been a great year,” Sumano said. “Mexico remains the No. 1 foreign destination for U.S. travelers, who make up 58% of our total market.”
Canada is Mexico’s second-largest source market, accounting for more than 17% of all visitors.
Other visitors include travelers from Russia and Brazil, “two countries which are proving very strong markets for Mexico, with great growth potential,” Sumano said.
Europe, too, contributed to Mexico’s visitor coffers, although travel from Greece and Spain fell off in 2012 due to the economic crisis in those two countries.
“Tour operators report strong bookings as we head into the winter season, which was helped by the mass influx of travelers for the Mayan celebrations all year, particularly on Dec. 21,” Sumano said. “Most of the 72,000 hotel rooms in Cancun and the Riviera Maya were booked.”
One factor that has helped bolster Mexico’s tourism numbers this year is perception, Sumano said.
“The gap between the perception of Mexico and the reality of Mexico as it relates to crime, violence and security has been closing,” Sumano said. “Information from the U.S. State Department on travel warnings and advisories is more balanced now and more precise, which helps make the decision to travel much easier.”
The State Department’s latest travel warning for Mexico, issued Nov. 20, contained no essential changes or surprises compared with the previous warning, on Feb. 8.
The current warning does not apply to most tourism destinations, although it cautions against nonessential travel to areas within 19 of Mexico’s 31 states, particularly areas near the U.S.-Mexico border.
One focus of Mexico tourism officials in 2013 will be those who have never visited the country.
“We want to invite them to come to Mexico, especially to our Pacific coast resort areas of Los Cabos, Ixtapa, Huatulco and Mazatlan,” Sumano said.
Acapulco, also on the west coast, was a popular destination for years but has suffered recently in the wake of cartel violence.
“It presents a challenge, but Acapulco right now is in a transformation stage,” Sumano said. “It does well with domestic travelers but not so well with international visitors. It will get our attention in 2013.”
Mexico also wants to target the upscale, repeat visitor with programs and incentives that offer extraordinary experiences, such as VIP access to archaeological sites, museums and colonial homes and tours.
“We have visitor volume; now we want to increase visitor spend,” Sumano said. “We have the potential to attract consumers looking for unique experiences. This is part of our strategy for the luxury market segment.” Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.