After months of rumors, the Mexico Tourism Board has
confirmed that Mexico's federal government plans to shutter the bulk of its
operations and use its $300 million annual budget to build a train connecting
tourism hot spots and villages across the Mayan Peninsula.
What remains unclear is what kind of inbound tourism
promotion body, if any, will replace it. That uncertainty has travel companies
scrambling for alternatives to keep from losing years of momentum in building
Mexico into the destination it is today.
"The promotion for tourism is like fuel for a car --
indispensable," said Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group, which is one
of the world's largest sellers of travel packages to Mexico and the owner of
AMResorts, which has multiple properties in Mexico. "Without good and
sufficient promotion, the tourism will slow down until the only way to recover
the volume lost will be by continuing to lower the rates to the point where
quality and profitability would be gone. Next, the volume would be gone as
well. It's a vicious cycle."
Mexico currently is the sixth most visited country in the
world, according to the World Tourism Organization, and the second most visited
country in the Americas behind the U.S.
Still, it has had its challenges in recent years, ranging
from widely publicized drug gang violence to reports of tainted alcohol
being served at resorts in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Zozaya said promotion of Mexico needs to increase rather
than decrease and should be done through a public-private partnership.
Pablo Azcarraga, chairman of both the Mexican hotel chain
Grupo Posadas and the Consejo Nacional Empresarial Turistico (CNET), the voice
of Mexico's private tourism sector, said he is in the process of negotiating
the creation of such a joint entity to manage advertising and promotion funds.
He said he is scheduled to meet with Mexico's new secretary
of finance "to discuss the urgent need for the funds and the impact that
tourism has in the Mexican economy."
Alfonso Sumano Lazcano, head of the tourism board's New York
office, confirmed the shuttering of the decades-old tourism ministry, or
Consejo de Promocion Turistica de Mexico, last week.
He said only three of the tourism ministry's 21
international offices -- New York, Tokyo and Berlin -- will remain open, and
their operations might be folded into embassy operations under Mexico's
minister of foreign affairs.
Sumano Lazcano said the tourism board's final event will be
the annual Tianguis Turistico trade show in early April.
After that, he said, he hopes there will be more clarity on
what the new administration plans to do with the money it collects on a $15 tax
on inbound airline tickets, 70% of which went to fund the tourism ministry.
The promotion for tourism is like fuel for a car -- indispensable.
Until then, the only thing that seems certain is that
whatever entity replaces the tourism ministry will be operating with a lot
less, if any, federal money.
Meanwhile, tourism promotional bodies representing Mexico's
states said they are discussing alliances to fill the gaps.
Oscar Alejandro Morales, promotion manager for the Jalisco
Ministry of Tourism, said ideas include promotions based on travel types,
including potential alliances among beach destinations and among culturally
focused destinations such as Guadalajara, Guanajuato and Aguascalientes.
"We're going to rebuild everything," Morales said.
"We're going to be [making] some sacrifices in order to start thinking as
Last month's Fitur tourism trade fair in Madrid was the last
international event supported by the Mexico Tourism Board, according to Richard
Zarkin, public relations manager for the Riviera Nayarit Visitors and
Conventions Bureau. While there, he said, representatives from tourism areas
around Mexico discussed how they might continue to attend such events, such as
next month's ITB Berlin, without federal backing.
"As destinations, we're getting together to promote
ourselves without the Mexico Tourism Board," Zarkin said. "It's going
to be challenging, because those funds helped a lot, especially for the
branding. We need to rethink the way we do promotion -- not just [the states of
Jalisco and Nayarit] as two neighboring destinations, but getting Los Cabos on
the bandwagon and Quintana Roo and other big destinations, and promote each
Luis Villasenor, public relations director for the Puerto
Vallarta Tourism Board, said, "It is clear to all our destinations when we
travel abroad: We don't sell Cancun, we don't sell Puerto Vallarta, we sell
Mexico. The message is to sell Mexico."
He said that once the Mexico Tourism Board offices close, "we
don't know how much budget [the board] will have, how they will invest it. They
said there will be some funds [for] branding, but we don't know how much."
Alfonso Sumano Lazcano, head of the Mexico Tourism Board's New York office, talked about
the Mexican government's plan to shut down the board.
Nevertheless, Villasenor and others, who were attending the
Gala Vallarta-Nayarit conference in Puerto Vallarta last week, said they are
prepared to make do with less.
"We need to do with two pesos what we used to do with
three," he said.
The private sector is also looking to increase alliances
with state entities.
Ray Snisky, chief commercial officer for Apple Leisure Group's
vacations sector, one of the largest U.S. sellers of Mexico travel packages,
said, "Based on feedback pertaining to the new strategy, we are working
closely with all of the state tourism offices in an effort to ensure whatever
the new process is will be executed effectively. We remain committed to driving
the best outcome from whatever strategy is ultimately deployed by the Mexican
He added that working only with state tourism offices,
however, "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."
Even so, he said, "We welcome the opportunity to create
a new public-private collaboration that leverages the strength of both. Mexico
tourism desperately needs a robust promotional strategy."