ACAPULCO, Mexico -- The time has never been better for Mexico to
attract U.S. travel agents and travelers, according to ASTA
president Richard Copland.
Delivering a keynote address here during Tianguis Turistico,
Mexico's largest tourism conference, Copland said, "The market is
ideal for Mexico. The opportunity is there in the immediate
Copland said that given the challenges presented by fear of
terrorism, the war in Iraq and the slumping U.S. economy, tourism
officials and agents should emphasize Mexico's advantages over
other destinations -- namely its proximity to the U.S. and the
value of the dollar-peso exchange rate.
"Greater cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. to encourage
travel will benefit all of us," he said. "We can only anticipate
increased traffic between the two countries, especially as
travelers choose to stay closer to home."
The cruise segment is one of the strongest niches for Mexico
travel, Copland said.
"The Cruise Lines International Association estimates that 7.4
million people cruised [worldwide] in 2002," he said. "They expect
8 million people to cruise in 2003."
This growth has been noted in Mexico, which has been helped by
the fact that many travelers prefer to drive to their vacations,
according to Copland.
"The new trend in travelers who want to drive to ports for
cruise vacations has been advantageous for Mexico," he said. "In
the [Gulf of Mexico], for example, over a five-year period, there
has been a 140% increase in passengers embarking from the port of
Tampa, Fla., to Mexican destinations.
"Cruise lines -- including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland
America and Celebrity -- are taking advantage of this trend," he
"Mexican cities such as Cozumel, Progreso and Merida, plus Costa
Maya, are vital destinations in itinerary planning and will
continue to grow as cruise-tourist attractions."
But Mexico faces challenges, Copland said, if it wants to build
on the increased port calls. The number of cruise passengers
traveling to Mexican ports of call has more than doubled in the
past five years, from 2.6 million to 4.8 million, he said.
"It is critical for those destinations -- from Ensenada to Punta
Venado to Mazatlan -- to make the experience memorable enough so
cruise passengers become repeat visitors," he said.
Copland also suggested that Mexico -- and U.S. travel agents --
should prepare for an "explosion" of travel once the war in Iraq
ends, as pent-up interest in taking vacations is released.
"Your challenge," he told attendees, "is to convince U.S.
tourists that Mexico is more than the sun and sand of Acapulco and
"There is no better time for you to be marketing to the