Mexico city seeks to lure U.S. vacationers

Writer Mary Kay Shanley joined travel agents on TWA's inaugural flight from St. Louis to Mexico City, attended a presentation by the Mexico City Ministry of Tourism and took a tour of the capital city's main attractions. Her report follows:

MEXICO CITY -- For decades, U.S. corporate types have been doing business in Mexico City. But when the weekend rolls around and they're finished taking care of business, they usually pack up and head to a Mexican beach or back home.

Palacio de bellas Artes"What that means," said Eduardo Yarto, director of conventions for the Mexico City Ministry of Tourism, "is that we have 52 low seasons a year -- every Saturday and Sunday. Our hotels are filled Monday through Friday."

The ministry and other tourism interests intend to change that by turning Mexico City into a destination for leisure travelers as well as for business travelers. It will be a challenge. "Our guest ratio here is 80 to 20 business to leisure," said Renza de Pirro, director of sales for the Sheraton Maria Isabel in Mexico City.

Moreover, only 15% of the hotel's leisure market is from the U.S., according to de Pirro. "Worse yet, the leisure market was down overall last year," she said.

In 1998, Mexico City received 7.5 million tourists, with foreign visitors spending an average of three nights. Whereas Mexico's biggest destination for European travelers is Mexico City, its biggest for U.S. travelers is the beach.

Yarto's goal -- to extend the corporate traveler's stay through the weekend -- is being coupled with an effort to get U.S. visitors to stop in Mexico City on their way to or from the beach resorts. "It's difficult, though," said de Pirro. "You're fighting with the seven-day package to Cancun, and that package is going for good money."

TWA's decision to launch daily service from St. Louis to Mexico City in January may help the city compete as a destination. "TWA's reentry into the Mexico City market not only signals a new opportunity for business travelers from St. Louis doing business in Mexico's capital city; it also provides a convenient new connecting point for travelers from the upper Midwest," said Don Casey, executive vice president of marketing for TWA.

If the service develops, TWA would consider adding capacity, according to Jim Brown, director of media relations. "It would be nice to have three or four flights a day," he said.

Meanwhile, Mexico City officials are taking steps to boost leisure tourism business. The efforts mainly are being spearheaded by the newly formed Mexico City Ministry of Tourism, along with the Mexico City Hotel and Motel Association, the Mexico City Travel Agent Association and the International Council of Museums.

"Our new Ministry of Tourism was formed because [we] realized that Mexico City tourism is good for the state of Mexico and for the country of Mexico, as well as for our city," said Yarto.

The ministry is working with the capital's five surrounding states to push leisure tourism throughout the region. "We have many things in common in our history," said Yarto. "We have many of the same products. We want tourists to come here and to travel beyond the city."

The following are some of the initiatives to increase leisure traffic.

  • Promotion to the U.S. travel trade, including a plan to develop agent familiarization trips.
  • The addition and improvement of travel services within the city.
  • Last year's addition of a 2% lodging tax to promote leisure tourism and safety.
  • Development of new products in the areas of adventure travel and ecotourism within the federal district of Mexico City, 45% of which is forested.
  • The creation of tourism corridors offering main points of interest, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and shopping. For example, one corridor features the city's Historic Center, and another is built around the floating gardens of Xochimilco.
  • Establishment in each corridor of government-implemented security measures such as police presence and installation of special information booths, where visitors can file complaints.
  • Efforts to educate tourists about safety precautions, which includes a list of five safety tips given to hotel guests when they check in.
  • Requesting that tourists arrange for a taxi through their hotel or that they use Taxi Mex instead of hailing any passing cab.
  • Closer cooperation with the embassies to ensure tourists' safety.
  • "I know that safety is a point of concern for the American tourist," said Yarto. "Yes, there is crime here. In all major cities, risks exist. But we are working at reducing the risks here."

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