Meagan Drillinger
Meagan Drillinger

The 45th annual Tianguis Turistico led with the slogan "renacimiento del turismo," or the rebirth of tourism. Nearly 4,000 people attended the event, held in the city of Merida in the state of Yucatan, where buyers and suppliers came together to highlight the billions of dollars of investment and new products coming to Mexico in the near future. The event, the most important for Mexican tourism in recent history, thrust Mexico into the global spotlight, and tourism officials are confident that 2022 will be as good, or better, than 2019.

Like nearly every other destination, Mexico was hit hard by the pandemic. However, while many countries are still struggling with restrictions and lockdowns, Mexico never closed its borders to tourism. Still, because of the restrictions imposed by other countries, as well as a short three-month period when hotels and resorts in Mexico were closed, Mexico saw a decrease of tourism of 45%, according to Miguel Torruco Marques, secretary of tourism for Mexico. But the country also reopened to tourism faster than any other in the world, allowing the destination to recoup much of what was lost from 2020. 

Related: Allianz survey: Top 3 international holiday destinations are all in Mexico

And the tourists came. Torruco told the audience at Tianguis Turistico's opening session that the country estimates the arrival of 31 million international tourists by the end of 2021, with an economic spillover of $18 billion pesos ($844 million).

"We have exceeded our expectations," said Torruco. "This new edition of Tianguis has brought about participation of more than 1,500 buyers and purchasers from more than 900 companies around the world. Our objective is to create new products and tourism routes. We are working relentlessly on many infrastructure projects."

New projects in the peninsula

The state of Yucatan was the setting for this year's event, which put the capital city of Merida and the surrounding region in the spotlight. Ahead of Tianguis Turistico, Yucatan launched a marketing campaign called "365 Days of Yucatan," which unveiled a new activity to explore in the state for every day of the year. The activities included cenote exploration, Magical Towns, cuisine and Mayan heritage. It is the Yucatan peninsula's Mayan heritage that is most important for promoting tourism to the region in the coming years.

The most important tourism project being highlighted at this year's Tianguis is the Mayan Train. The Tren Maya was first mentioned in 2018 and was emphasized at the 44th Tianguis in 2019. While the pandemic paused the progress of those plans, Torruco assured attendees that the project is very much still going to happen.

"This is the largest form of investment we have seen in the last 60 years," he said. "This project will be an example of regional integration throughout the entirety of its tracks. It will have 19 terminals and stations that will bring progress to Quintana Roo, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco and Yucatan."

The train route, which is a loop from Cancun in Quintana Roo, down through Chiapas, up into Tabasco and across Campeche and Yucatan, will provide a potential of 190 tourism attractions, as well. The first segment of the train route, which will feature Quintana Roo, Yucatan and Chiapas, is slated to debut at the end of 2022 or early 2023. 

With its opening, travelers will gain exposure to other lesser-traveled states in Mexico's southeast, like Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas. 

"Next year the first part of the train is supposed to open, and Campeche is in the first part," said Julio Manuel Pena Dominguez, president of the Campeche Tourism Association. "Campeche has the biggest part of the Tren Maya. [Typically] people come [to Campeche] with their backpacks. [Most travelers] prefer Cancun or Merida, but in Campeche we can offer a lot of things."

Some of these things include bird-watching, volcanoes, archaeological sites like Calakmul and the small-town vibe and historical charm of Campeche city. The train will also expose travelers to sites like Palenque in Chiapas and the city of San Cristobal de las Casas.

"Here in the peninsula in the southeast of Mexico we have a region that is extraordinary in richness, archaeological sites and nature," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at the opening session. "This is where we decided to create the Mayan train. It's a form of communicating and conveying the old and new Mayan cities and making sure that people know them."

In addition to the Mayan train, Quintana Roo's capital city, Chetumal, is expecting a direct flight from Miami with American Airlines in December. This is the beginning of the opening of the southern part of Quintana Roo to international tourism, where you will find the small lake town of Bacalar (and the lake by the same name), as well as coastal beach villages like Mahahual and Xcalak. 

Development across the country

Of course, it is not only the Yucatan peninsula that is expanding its offerings for 2022 and beyond. Riviera Nayarit is on the precipice of a luxury explosion. A slew of openings are slated beginning in 2022 with the Rosewood Mandarina and the Auberge resort, Susurros Del Corazon. This will continue with a Fairmont and Ritz-Carlton Reserve in 2023, new glamping suites at the Four Seasons Punta Mita, a new Iberostar property in Litibu and more.

"Nayarit's recovery has been very good," said Richard Zarkin, director of public relations of the Office of Visitors and Conventions of Nayarit. "The summer vacation period in 2021, compared to 2019, saw three times as many visitors." That is with the addition of 1,300 new rooms, though only 70 percent of the inventory could be offered due to pandemic restrictions.

The state of Jalisco is also expecting to open a Four Seasons on the Costalegre. A new luxury development, Xala, is also anticipated for 2023. 

Los Cabos continues to diversify, as well. The destination has partnered with Queer Destinations to promote and develop the LGBTQ+ segment in Los Cabos. The LGBTQ+ market is an important segment for tourism, especially in Mexico.

Mexico and the world

Mexico has long been the preferred travel destination for American travelers. The pandemic forced Mexico to get creative when marketing travel, especially as the demands of travelers had changed. Keeping Mexico fresh, along with the billions of dollars of infrastructure investment, new flights and accolades in consumer magazines (Mexico was named Travel + Leisure's Destination of the Year 2022) is now giving Mexico an even larger role on the global scale.

"2021 was a very successful year," said Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. "But we have to keep focus. There is no guarantee for 2022, and the market is evolving faster. We need to answer the question of why travelers need to keep coming to Mexico."

Added Torruco: "We believe Mexico will go from place No. 7 to place No. 3 in international arrivals, and place 17 to 14 in tourism expenditure. Mexico attracted over $7 billion U.S. in tourism investment from abroad. We want to opt for solidarity. We are here in the long run."

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