What do Hawaii, Mexico, Jamaica,
Brazil, Australia, Thailand, Kenya, Spain, Anguilla, Uruguay,
Israel, the Seychelles, Florida, Tahiti, Mozambique, Turkey, the
Bahamas and, oh, about a jillion other destinations have in common?
Each can, and does,
promote itself as a sun, sand and surf destination. If you were
reviewing the countries of the world in search of a beach holiday
and you crossed off Chad, Bolivia, Mongolia and all other
landlocked countries, you still wouldn't have shortened the list
This occurred to me
last week during the Travel Weekly Leadership Forum in Mexico City,
where a standing room-only crowd of tour operators, government
officials, hoteliers and others interested in Mexican tourism
gathered for a day of discussion and brainstorming.
Frank Haas, former
director of marketing for the Hawaii Tourism Authority and
currently the director for strategic development at the University
of Hawaii's School of Travel Industry Management, gave the kickoff
speech about how Hawaii had managed to differentiate itself from
other sand, surf and sun destinations. The process, while
successful, was not without difficulty, he said.
The Mexico Tourism
Board, though happy with the country's success as a beach
destination, would like to see Mexico promote its more diverse
offerings, specifically emphasizing culture. But large-scale
wholesalers on two separate panels indicated that Mexican culture
was difficult to sell to the mass market.
Later that morning,
one of the panelists, Bryan Estep, Travelocity's vice president for
Mexico and Latin America, told me that whenever he flew into Mexico
from over the Gulf or along the Pacific, he was always amazed by
the miles and miles of undeveloped beachfront that Mexico still
has. Hawaii, on the other hand, was pretty much tapped out; every
beautiful beach appeared to have been discovered by a
I speculated that in
addition to its beaches, it was possible that there were few places
of beauty on public land in Hawaii that had not been "discovered,"
but larger (and largely rural) Mexico must have hundreds of
beautiful places that still remained unexploited by the national
In the spirit of
spreading the word about Mexico's less-known attractions, I asked
several panelists and attendees who know Mexico intimately to share
their "best-kept secret" -- a place they love that remains
Estep responded that
his choice would be Sayulita, a little surf town north of Puerto
Vallarta. And there were plenty of other secrets shared.
Gordon Viberg, CEO of
Grupo Presidente and president of Consejo Nacional Empresarial
Turistico: "Valle de Bravo, a great colonial town with a beautiful
lake for boating and sailing, surrounded by pine forests. It's only
20 minutes from a monarch butterfly preserve, has good shopping,
great restaurants. Currently, it's a weekend retreat for those of
us in Mexico City, but it could turn into a second San Miguel if
Ana Gon-Ryan, a vice
president with RCI Global Vacation Network: "Mexico City during
Holy Week. Everyone's gone to Acapulco, the weather's great and
there's no smog."
MLT Vacations' vice president, product development: "Puerto
Aventuras, south of Playa del Carmen. It's quiet and secluded, a
great place to chill out."
Orbitz's regional director for Mexico and Latin America: "The
Hacienda Taboada in San Miguel de Allende, in
Brad Walker, Alaska
Airline's director of leisure marketing: "Loreto. I like its focus
on trying to keep its growth reasonable. It's a small city with so
much to offer."
Moreno-Nickerson, Classic Vacations' director of product
development for the Caribbean and Mexico, said he thought Mexico's
surplus of best-kept secrets actually reflected a flaw in its
ability to market itself.
"We're good at
keeping best-kept secrets secret," he said. "That, I'm afraid, is