Reading about travel to Mexico is like listening to a story that begins, "I've got some good news and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?"
The bad news? The country is being hammered in consumer media on security issues, portions of the country are flagged as "do not travel" zones by the U.S. State Department, and the country was hit by a scandal involving illegal alcohol.
Despite this, there's considerable good news. The United Nations World Tourism Organization recently moved Mexico up from the eighth to the sixth on its list of most-visited countries. Airlift has increased significantly in the past few years, and major hotel brands continue to announce plans to build properties in resort areas.
Travel advisers recommending the country often face questions from skeptical clients who see a desirable destination but are concerned about possible risks. The vast majority of advisers who themselves have been to Mexico recently experienced nothing but beautiful beaches, great food and exceptional service, but they are nevertheless uncertain about how to reassure doubting clients.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, May 15), you will have the chance to ask questions directly of Enrique de la Madrid, Mexico's secretary of tourism, in a live webinar I'll be hosting. You'll be able to arm yourself with facts and context that put risks about travel to Mexico in perspective. The webinar will be held at 3 p.m. Eastern, and you can sign up at www.travelweekly.com/mexicotourismsecretary. (The webinar will be available on demand after the live broadcast.)
I have interviewed de la Madrid several times and found him to be both candid and direct on issues regarding security and knowledgeable about the country's varied attractions. The son of a former president of Mexico, he was recruited from a successful banking career to take this cabinet position and oversee a ministry that contributes about 16% of the country's GDP in a sector that employs almost 5 million citizens. When I invited him to speak directly to Travel Weekly's audience and take questions in a live setting, he didn't hesitate. "Let's do it," he said.
This is a rare opportunity for direct dialogue with a thoughtful leader of tourism in a country that received more than 10 million U.S. visitors last year. Even if you've never participated in a webinar in the past, this one is a must-do.
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My life or UrLife? My wife, two sons and I recently traveled to another area of the world that sometimes gives travelers pause, though for different reasons: the Middle East.
We divided our time between Israel and Jordan. Those two countries have so many world-class attractions that, among the four of us, we returned with more than 2,000 photos and hours of videos.
Imagery posted in real time through social media has replaced the vacation slideshow as a means of sharing the story of a trip. But to be honest, I miss the ritual of editing and organizing pictures into a tight narrative to share with close family and friends. Doing so was like adding a bonus period onto a vacation. Sadly, I simply don't have the time to do it these days.
Enter UrLife. It's a startup co-founded by Adam Sandler's college dormmate, Jack Giarraputo, who, with Sandler, built the Happy Madison production company. The other co-founder is Ryan Hegenberger, who previously launched the film marketing agency Big Picture Entertainment.
As a producer, Giarraputo saw an opportunity in the confluence of time-impoverishment and experiential travel. He intuited that people would be happy to turn over their raw video footage and unedited images to a professional who could sort through them and produce a polished, short "coming attractions"-style synopsis of their vacation.
I met Giarraputo, Hegenberger and COO Vicki Luisi just before my vacation, and they offered to make a UrLife video for me.
To be honest, I was dubious that a stranger could produce something meaningful. But the process includes an interview and opportunities to revise. The editor assigned to the project, Nicole Zumpe, nailed it after just one revision. She was even able to creatively incorporate footage from my Rylo 360-degree, twin-lens camera that I had used to record a family footrace up a sand dune in Wadi Rum, Jordan. (You can see the complete two-minute video at www.travelweekly.com/middleeastvacation.)
UrLife's founders are not worried about competitors using artificial intelligence to construct a video. "The human role is important," Giarraputo said. "And we have Emmy Award winners who are between jobs" doing the editing.
The basic service costs $300, and UrLife has arrangements in place to begin offering the service through Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Uniworld, which will incorporate professional b-roll shot onboard their ships into vacation footage.
"Everyone wants their customers to have better memories to share," Giarraputo said.
Though they are starting with travel, Giarraputo believes UrLife can expand into, for example, Mother's Day videos, digital Christmas cards, even life retrospectives that could be shown at funerals.
His ambition? "We want the role of personal family historian."
I've often thought of vacations as life in concentrate, because when traveling, people bring focus to what's important to them, from family time to food to enjoyment of outdoors to culture. Indeed, travel seems the right place for an aspiring family historian to begin.