Last week, Alfonso Sumano Lazcano, head of the Mexico
Tourism Board's New York office, confirmed months-long rumors that the
government planned to shut down the board, which promotes inbound tourism. Its
budget will be used to build a train on the Yucatan Peninsula. Senior editor
Jeri Clausing talked with him about the move and what it could mean for Mexico
and the many companies with a huge stake in selling travel to Mexico.
Q: We've been hearing for months that the new administration
wants to shut down your agency and revamp or eliminate the promotion of inbound
tourism. Is that true?
Alfonso Sumano Lezcano
A: Consejo (de Promocion Turistica de Mexico) is definitely
shutting down. It's going to be something different. The good news is that they
are going to maintain three offices: here in New York; one in Europe, in
Berlin; and one more in Asia, based out of Tokyo. I wouldn't say we would stop
promoting Mexico internationally. But we are standing by for now.
Q: Is it also true that your budget (nearly $300 million a
year) from the $15 tax on inbound airline tickets is going to be shifted to the
A: Yes. The new president [Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador] is a
leftist, and he is into providing people with social benefits. And that means
he needs a lot of money. In this case, he is actually allocating to the train
the funding that used to be used for tourism promotion for the train.
But to make the change, they need to pass a new law. It used
to be that 70% of that tax went to Consejo, for the promotion internationally
of Mexico; 20% went to Fonatur, the entity that is building the train; and 10%
was for immigration.
What we are trying to do is convince them to do the
opposite: give 70% or 80% to the train and give us 10% or 20% to do campaigns
and participate in the most important events.
Q: Some reports in the Mexican press indicated that the
change was not just about funding the train but was made out of concern that
spending by the tourism board was not transparent.
A: The tourism board could be much better in terms of
communicating where they were investing the money. That definitely didn't
happen in the past. But that doesn't mean that you have to reinvent the wheel.
We can do some improvements and keep it very transparent. At the end of the
day, even though it is not a tax that the Mexican taxpayer pays, this is public
money. So it is a very good idea to have transparency.
Q: I understand that business leaders like Pablo Azcarraga
(chairman of both the Mexican hotel chain Grupo Posadas and the Consejo
Nacional Empresarial Turistico, the voice of Mexico's private tourism sector)
are negotiating to try to salvage some funding for inbound promotions and
create a private-public partnership. Are you working with them, as well?
A: We are in agreement. ... He is talking about a budget of
about $150 million. The Consejo had $300 million. He is saying that even if we
keep less than that, we can keep operating. They are talking about reducing all
kinds of expenses. We can do something like that.
What we are trying to make people understand is that the
international marketplace is very competitive. If they shut down promotion,
there won't be money for the train or anything. In a couple of years, after you've
had no promotion and travelers start to decrease, they will notice that the
funds for the train will decrease, as well.
Q: It all sounds very up in the air right now. When do you
think you might know what the future holds?
A: Whenever they approve the new legislation and we know how
it reads. Then we are going to know exactly what is going on. I believe the
minister of foreign affairs is going to push to have some resources [for
promoting tourism]. He knows you can't just talk about it. I believe he will
definitely be sensitive to the needs of tourism.
I hope to have much better information at Tianguis [trade
show] in Acapulco in early April.
Q: In the meantime, what kind of immediate impact is this
A: The markets respond to what you did seven or eight months
ago. I don't see a lot of decrease in tourism this year. But we need to keep on
going. We need to keep moving. If you shut down promotion all at once it is not