Travel Weekly hosted an emergency webcast Thursday to address agent and consumer concerns about tourism to Mexico in light of negative media coverage of escalated drug-related violence south of the border and a recent U.S. State Department travel alert about the country.
The interactive "Mexico: Facts About Safety" online session, conducted in cooperation with tour operators Funjet Vacations and Travel Impressions, attracted nearly 1,400 participants. Attendees were able to post questions to be presented to a panel of five leading industry executives.
Travel Weekly Editor in Chief Arnie Weissmann moderated the panel, which included Mike Going, president of Funjet; Steve Gorga, president of Travel Impressions; Mandy Chomat, vice president of sales and marketing for Karisma Hotels & Resorts; Carlos Behnsen, executive director of the Mexico Tourism Board; and Sal Ramos vice president of sales and marketing at Marival Resorts & Suites.
The broad consensus among panelists was that mass media coverage of violent clashes between drug cartels and police, largely confined to five counties on the U.S.-Mexico frontier, has been unfair, alarmist and distorted.
Going of Funjet said it's not the actual security situation but "the [Feb. 20] U.S. travel alert and a broadly misinterpreted publicizing of that by U.S. media" that has had the greatest effect on Mexico bookings. Funjet customer surveys indicate that 15% to 20% of U.S. travelers are now likely to cancel their Mexico holidays.
Behnsen stressed that Mexico's major resort areas are hundreds, in some cases thousands, of miles from trouble spots. In addition, Mexican authorities have put in place new security measures in popular vacation destinations to forestall any spread of the violence.
Panelists also agreed that travel agents should become advocates for travel to Mexico, engaging local media, participating in online travel forums and availing themselves of new tools -- such as surveys, maps, fact sheets and even YouTube videos -- to counter unfounded customer fears.
Funjet has made a media engagement kit and its consumer survey available online via VaxVacationAccess; Karisma posts illustrative maps on its website and boosted its number of agent fam trips; and Marival is filming customer testimonials and posting them at YouTube.com.
Mexico hosts 22.6 million tourists per year, including 18 million from the U.S., according to the Mexico Tourist Board.
The webcast is available on demand and can be accessed using the login and password provided after registering.