Tourism industry contemplates Mexico election results

Cancun scene
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After Mexicans earlier this month elected as president the left-wing populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the country's tourism industry weighed in on whether the president-elect and his incoming administration aligned with sustaining the sector's recent growth.

"The new administration has already expressed key priorities for them in terms of the country and tourism destinations," said Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. "For example, they want to elevate security. They also have expressed that they want to increase international connectivity into the country."

Overall, Esponda said he was very encouraged by the new administration's goals. 

Another priority of Lopez Obrador's administration, Esponda said, is to diversify its source markets beyond North America, while still remaining committed to its No. 1 source market, the U.S.

"The best strategy they have expressed is that they want to attract higher expenditure per visitor," he said.

Lopez Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, will officially take office on Dec. 1. He has already announced his cabinet selections, including Miguel Torruco Marques as secretary of tourism. Several people in the industry said Marques' extensive experience serving Mexico's tourism industry bodes well for the sector.

Gloria Guevara Manzo, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council and Mexico's tourism minister from 2010 to 2012 under former president Felipe Calderon, said Marques "has been in travel and tourism for years. He was in charge of tourism for Mexico City for four or five years, and Mexico City counts for probably 20% or 25% of tourism in the country."

She added that Marques has a strong record in recognizing the crucial role of job training in developing the tourism economy. 

Zach Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico, a high-end ground operator with offices in Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun, said he, too, felt encouraged by some of the incoming administration's top goals and how they align with the tourism industry's.

"I definitely think that AMLO will be good for tourism," Rabinor said. "He has two major platforms. One is job creation, and the tourism sector is the largest creator of jobs in the country."

As for anti-corruption, Lopez Obrador's other top priority, Rabinor said, "I think anti-corruption also feeds nicely into growth in the tourism sector because it will lead to less crime, less violence and so on."

Rabinor said Mexico has a lot of opportunities to promote its lesser-known locales and experiences and to market itself as much more than just a sun-and-sand destination by touting its cultural, natural and adventure attributes. He said helping to promote lesser-known destinations would offer citizens economic alternatives to lives of crime.

Lopez Obrador and Marques will assume office at a time when Mexico's tourism industry has a lot on the line. After fighting through what Guevara described as some of the toughest years for the industry in 2010 and 2011, the country's tourism economy has rebounded strongly.

President Enrique Pena Nieto announced earlier this year that Mexico had jumped to the world's sixth most visited country in 2017, up from No. 8 in 2016 and No. 15 in 2013, citing rankings published by the U.N. World Tourism Organization.

Mexico last year welcomed 39.3 million international visitors, a 12% increase over the previous year. 

Guevara said Mexico's key challenge will be to sustain that growth, which will require big investments in infrastructure, especially in airports and hotels.

The new administration, Guevara said, needs to clamp down on the security issues the country faces. At the same time, she said, the industry must communicate that the country is as safe as other destinations. 

Esponda pointed to Los Cabos as a model the new government can follow to enhance security measures in other parts of the country: a public-private collaboration to enhance surveillance systems and increase security forces.

As for some of the anxiety about electing a socialist, Rabinor said he was not concerned: "I think a lot of the fears are ... kind of unfounded, sensationalized fears about his being a chavista [a follower of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez] or being a real left-wing socialist. But in truth and in fact, what he has done historically has been to make alliances with the private sector. And as you can see, post-election, the markets have responded favorably."

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