Official at Tianguis tempers optimism over tourism data

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ACAPULCO, Mexico -- Last year was a good one for Mexico's tourism industry, according to officials at Tianguis Turistico, the annual national tourism convention held here last month.

But challenges still exist as the government confronts the realities of a neighbor at war and competition from other destinations.

In 2003, Mexico's tourism sector revenues reached more than $9.4 billion, a 6.8% increase over 2002.

According to Rodolfo Elizondo Torres, the nation's secretary of tourism, that puts Mexico in 10th place worldwide in tourism sector revenues, up from 13th in 2002.

Elizondo said that "tourist arrivals and revenue in the country ... show growth that allows us to be optimistic" but noted that "our optimism must be in moderation. ... We are aware that last year, we were in a period before the Iraq war."

To continue the increase in arrivals, Elizondo said, the country must develop new strategies and build upon its existing strengths.

Among the developments he said he would like to see is an effort to make travel easier within Mexico, with more regional air service, as part of a plan to encourage foreigners to visit more than one region during their vacations.

Elizondo also said that courting the Mexican-American market and developing more tourist attractions close to the U.S. border should be priorities.

"We have made the effort ... to do a study of the border regions of our country, which has yielded some important data," Elizondo said.

"The most important is ... [that] none of the border destinations considers itself as a tourist destinations, or rather, there isn't the concept, not even in Tijuana, that they are or could be important tourist destinations."

One strategy for developing tourism close to the border is a plan by Fonatur, Mexico's tourist development agency, to promote new tourist routes in the north and construct new port and marina facilities in several locations along the Sea of Cortes.

"We have the competitive advantage of being a country that is unique, diverse and hospitable," Elizondo said, adding that another advantage is safety, which he said is a major consideration today for travelers from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

"Mexico has no history in terms of terrorism, and I hope we never will. From my point of view, that will make more international tourists return to Mexico," he said.

"We consider the [tourism arrival] numbers that we're seeing a direct reflection of this variable in the travel decisions of international tourists."

This year, Tianguis attracted 2,100 participants, including 902 buyers from 31 countries, according to officials.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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