Mexico city increases efforts to lure leisure travelers

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MEXICO CITY -- The Mexico City Secretary of Tourism is stepping up efforts to promote the capital as a leisure destination.

mariachis entertain visitors.Initiatives are aiming to spotlight the city as a multifaceted, cosmopolitan destination on a par with world class urban centers such as Paris, London and New York.

Although Mexico City as a commercial center attracts a significant number of business travelers, it often is overlooked as a leisure destination. Officials want to get the word out that Mexico City is packed with lures for the leisure traveler, including museums, historic buildings and churches, archaeological sites, quaint neighborhoods, performing arts and a variety of restaurants.

Central Mexico's earthquake earlier this month did not cause any major damage or disrupt services in the capital city, according to the MCST. The MCST is capitalizing on more than $10 million garnered through the formation last fall of a mixed funds tourism promotion council, which receives money from a 2% lodging tax implemented last year and from various tourism entities.

According to Augustin Arroyo, secretary of tourism for Mexico City, a four-part marketing plan was developed to address key obstacles in courting the leisure market.

"The main problems we face are lack of information and a [poor] image," Arroyo said, pointing to negative publicity about crime in the city. The effort entails local, regional, national and international promotion carried through with a recently unveiled logo to define Mexico City as a tourist product in public relations and advertising campaigns.

The logo is a modern, streamlined design depicting Templo Mayor, an archaeological site containing the main ceremonial pyramid of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, founded in the 1300s.

"The logo represents the Templo Mayor pyramid as the inception of the modern city, giving rise to its contemporary architecture while emphasizing the subtle Art Deco style prevalent in the city," Arroyo said.

To promote the new identity, the MCST's agenda in North America this year includes a trade and consumer advertising campaign; seminars to educate the trade; participation in major trade shows; organizing fam trips; forming partnerships with airlines, and road shows for the trade, the first of which will be in September and October in California, Illinois and Texas.

To help the trade tap into Mexico City's potential as a leisure destination, Arroyo said special-interest segments are being featured prominently in order to give agents and tour operators the opportunity to develop packages focusing on archaeology, shopping, adventure, fiestas, history, gastronomy and religious tourism.

On the niche-marketing front, the MCST participated in the International Adventure Travel and Outdoor Show in February outside Chicago. With roughly 50% of the city's area being forested territory, promoting adventure and ecotourism opportunities -such as mountain biking and mountain climbing -- and developing new products are a key focus, according to Arroyo.

This year, Mexico City had a presence for the first time at ITB, the international trade show held annually in Berlin. Locally, efforts are under way to ensure tourist safety in the wake of recent high-profile crimes in the city.

Officials do not deny that there is a crime problem in Mexico City, but many feel the issue has been sensationalized and that, as long as tourists take precautions as they would in any large city, they will diminish the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime.

"The big problem is that the local news that is broadcast nationally is picked up in the states," Arroyo said. He added that recent initiatives to make the city safer for tourists have paid off.

Of the 7.9 million visitors Mexico City received in 1998, 1,590 complaints about criminal activity were filed, which represents .02% of visitors, he said. Less than 1% of the complaints filed were from international visitors.

The latest initiatives include the implementation of the Ministerios Publicos Mobiles, which enables tourists to dial 061 on a telephone to summon a representative who will register a complaint about criminal activity.

Another new program, called pollitos (little chickens), acts as a pedestrian help force and tourist information service. Pollitos wear bright yellow outfits for easy identification.

Additionally, a safety precaution sheet is being distributed to tourists when they check in to major hotels. Although it is not an effort of the MCST, a Web site at www.safeMexico.com was introduced by Sectur, Mexico's Ministry of Tourism, to provide objective assessments of destinations and give visitors tips for having a safe and pleasant stay in the country.

The MCST also launched a Web site, at www.mexicocity.gob.mx, which includes details on safety precautions and a variety of other topics.

The comprehensive site features information on all of the city's major attractions, tourist zones and special-interest opportunities as well as important contact information.

The MCST also will soon unveil events planned for the millennium, which marks the city's 675th birthday. For more information on Mexico City, call (800) 44-MEXICO.

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