Mexico Tourism Board closing 18 of 21 international offices

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Cancun scene
A beach in Cancun. Photo Credit: GM Stockstudio/Shutterstock

The Mexico Tourism Board is shuttering all but three of its 21 international offices and has shifted nearly $300 million earmarked for promoting inbound tourism to construction of a train along the Mayan Peninsula.

Alfonso Sumano Lazcano, head of the tourism board's New York office, confirmed Monday what had been rumored for months.

"Consejo (de Promocion Turistica de Mexico) is definitely shutting down," he said. "It's going to be something different."

Exactly what, however, is unclear.

In the meantime, he said, the New York, Tokyo and Berlin offices are being retained with small staffs, but it is unclear if the offices will remain open on their own or become an arm of Mexico's embassies in those countries. 

Much remains in limbo, Sumano said, until a new law is passed to change how the $15 tax on inbound travelers is allocated.

Currently, about 70% of that money is earmarked for the tourism board to fund promotions, he said. About 10% is used for immigration. The other 20% goes to Fonatur, the entity that funds tourism infrastructure development, including the Mayan train that is planned to connect tourism destinations and villages across the Mayan peninsula.

Sumano did not say how many tourism employees had lost or will lose their jobs. But he did say the tourism board is currently working without a budget.

He said he and officials with hotel and travel companies with a heavy interest in Mexico are working to convince the new administration of the importance of continuing to promote inbound tourism to Mexico, even if it is on a smaller scale.

"We do not need 21 offices around the world," he said. "We do not need a large office in Mexico City ... what these people (Mexico's Congress) do not understand is the importance of international offices and the competitive market.

"In a couple of years, when you have not had promotions and travelers start to decrease, they will notice that the funds are going to decrease as well."

Sumano said he is working closely with groups like the U.S. Tour Operators Association; Consejo Nacional Empresarial Turistico (CNET), the voice of Mexico's private tourism sector; and companies like Apple Vacations that are heavily invested in Mexico to persuade the government to maintain some international tourism promotional dollars.

Pablo Azcarraga, who chairs both the Mexican hotel chain Grupo Posadas and CNET, said last week that the private sector "is in the process of negotiating with the federal government a new proposal to create a new joint entity that will manage the advertising and promotion funds."

Ray Snisky, chief commercial officer for Apple Leisure Group's vacations sector, said Apple Leisure Group is enhancing its working relationship with Mexico's state tourism offices, "but that fragmented strategy loses some of the cohesive leverage we were able to gain previously by engaging consumers and travel counselors with the entirety of the destination of Mexico in a singular campaign." Apple Leisure Group one of the largest U.S. sellers of Mexico travel packages.

Snisky said the new administration "is turning its back on the tourism industry, which drives employment and fuels the Mexican economy at the worst possible time ever."

"Now more than ever it is vital for the government to work in collaboration with the private sector to promote this spectacular tourism offering," he said. "Other destinations continue to gain market share, and it will only get worse without a united promotional strategy."

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