Fam trip turns agents' heads

MEXICO CITY -- Agents are used to sending clients on business trips to Mexico City.

But to date, U.S. travel agents have given less thought to suggesting Mexico City as a leisure destination. In fact, many agents on TWA's recent inaugural flight between St. Louis and Mexico City readily admitted that Mexico City as a leisure destination had never been a consideration for them.

One day and night in the capital city went a long way toward changing that mind-set. "When my manager asked if I wanted to go to Mexico City, I wondered what there was to see," said Midge Stephan of Custom Travel Service in Crestwood, Mo. "I thought, 'Why would people travel there?' "

A tour of the Dolores Olmedo Patino Museum, a leisurely float through the canals of Xochimilco followed by a walk in the region's ecological park, a drive past the city's historic buildings and, finally, a guided tour through San Ildefonso College did the trick.

"Now," Stephan said, "I would encourage clients to come to Mexico City for a leisure one- to three-night stay. This seems like a good place to stop en route to another destination. There's far more history and culture here than I had expected to find."

So what about the crime issue? Certainly, it seems to be an overriding concern with Mexican officials and the media. On the day of the TWA inaugural flight, a New York Times headline stated "New Questions on Safety in Mexico Are Raised."

But agent concerns about crime didn't seem to be intense. "I need to know what there is to do in Mexico City," said Marcia Atchison of World Wide Travel in Topeka, Kan. "I have to learn more about what this city has to offer in the way of attractions and culture. I also need to know if a tourist can get around here alone, or would that person be better off in a group," she said.

"Mexico City is definitely not for the budget tourist. But clients [willing to spend a little extra] -- retired people, for example -- could hire a driver."

Atchison said she believes the more seasoned traveler who wants something different would enjoy the attractions of Mexico City. Right now, when Americans think Mexico, they think beach," she said. But eventually, they'll get tired of the beach."

Agents talked about the language differences, the huge size of the city, air pollution and the conservative nature of their Midwestern clients. "I have no problem sending clients to Cancun, but I need to know more about Mexico City before making recommendations to come here," said Mark Sikes of Jet America Travel Network in St. Louis Park, Minn. "Regarding crime," he added, "if you leave your brain at home, there is a good chance of becoming a crime victim wherever you go."

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