Arnie WeissmannLast week I had breakfast with a friend, Gary Hoover. Conversations with him always remind me a bit of the film "My Dinner With Andre," because one never knows in which direction things might veer as he taps his enormous knowledge base on myriad subjects.

Ultimately, I find his brain to be more reliable than Wikipedia.

I also don't know anyone who has more entrepreneurial energy. He recently finished a stint as entrepreneur-in-residence at the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas. He co-founded the business information company as well as Bookstop (snapped up by Barnes and Noble, it became the prototype for their superstores) and the ill-fated Travelfest, which brought the big-box format to travel and failed after opening just three stores.

He's currently working on an e-game in which players try to build successful businesses. Now in beta, its differentiator is that it's powered by real, proprietary business data that he licenses.

And he's a travel junkie. Exploring the world ranks high among our shared interests.

"No nation on Earth is more important to the future prosperity of the United States than Mexico," he said.

I said I had expected him to finish the sentence with China.

"We write, tweet and talk about China, India, Iraq, Afghanistan, Britain, Korea, but none is more important to our future success than Mexico," he said. "We're attached at the hip. If Mexico does badly, it will hurt the U.S. more than almost anything we can imagine in the Middle East. If it does well, there will be no better news for the U.S."

He loves the country as a tourist destination -- he has visited more than a third of its states -- and thinks its culture and its potential as a commercial partner are both vastly undervalued by Americans. To that end, he gave a presentation at Austin's South by Southwest conference titled "Why Mexico Will Change Your Life."

"Mexico City is one of the most underestimated cities by Americans," he said. "It reportedly has more museums than any city on Earth, and I believe that. There were 28 museums and historic sites within a few blocks of my hotel. Food and music are world-class.

"Everywhere you travel in Mexico, you see new roads and universities. This is important, and some of the more talked-about nations are well behind Mexico in those regards."

Hoover is not blind to the country's challenges. "None of this is to deny that Mexico has issues, but history shows us that drug wars and gang power passes."

Taking off his tourist hat and putting on his entrepreneur's, he cites World Bank data showing that Mexico ranks 43 places higher than China on ease of doing business.

"It's the second-biggest buyer of U.S. exports [behind Canada]," he said. "And we spend more money there than any countries other than China and Canada."

To this, I would add that Mexico's tourist board, charged with combining Hoover's twin passions for travel and business, is among the most proactive and entrepreneurial I've encountered. The "Mexico: Live It to Believe It" campaign has been (literally) amped up recently through linkage to musical artists and events whose appeal spans generations.

Last week alone, it was a sponsor of New York's Jingle Ball (a concert of top pop music acts) and became the first tourism board to place its slogan into the title of an HBO special: Santana's "Corazon, Live in Mexico: Live It to Believe It." Jalisco native Carlos Santana was filming around Vallarta Nayarit leading up to a concert in Guadalajara on Dec. 14, which featured an international lineup in support of his first all-Spanish-language album, "Corazon."

Mexico Tourism Board CEO Rodolfo Lopez Negrete said the deal was complex, involving both HBO and Sony, Santana's label. But its audience will be broad, tapping Santana's pan-American co-stars, among the biggest names in South America and the Caribbean.

Having spent a lot of time this year immersed in data related to the vast potential of China and Asia, my conversation with Hoover, concurrent with last week's Mexico Tourism Board activity, reminded me that potential can move in several directions simultaneously.

And sometimes, it moves full circle. Watch for our Dec. 30 Preview issue. In my Executive View interview with Apple Leisure Group CEO Alex Zozaya, you'll see how entrepreneurial Mexico is preparing to welcome globe-trotting Chinese.

Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.


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