Mexico president faces anxiety at tourism trade show

ACAPULCO, Mexico — It was an important week for Mexico
tourism at the 44th annual Tianguis Turistico here last week, perhaps one of
the most important ever. 

First, there was mounting concern about the new government’s
dissolution of the Tourism Promotion Council of Mexico (CPTM), and second,
there was growing uncertainty surrounding president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s
tourism policies.

The big questions were what it all means for the future of
tourism promotion and what it portends for the Tianguis event.

The industry’s response to the demise of CPTM was not
sugar-coated. Directors of tourism boards, heads of destination management
companies, tourism officials and public relations managers all expressed
various levels of anxiety about the closing of the country’s tourism board. 

Regional tourism boards quickly responded with action. Last
week, several regional destinations signed alliances at Tianguis, pooling
resources and finances to pick up where the CPTM left off, attempting to spread
Mexico’s marketing message without funding from the federal government.

Mexico City and four states — Jalisco, Zacatecas,
Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi — signed an alliance on April 9 spearheading an
initiative to begin promotional efforts as a unit and joining with tour
operators who will offer multistate itineraries to show off the best of central
Mexico.

Maria del Rocio Lancaster Jones, promotion director for the
state of Jalisco, said, “What we are doing is because of the lack of
promotion. The strategy is not clear about what is going to happen [in the
federal government], so we decided to keep going.”

The reason for the collaboration, she said, is that “Tourism
is one of our main incomes. … We set one budget as a whole and are going
together to visit the main producers of our region in the United States and in
Europe.”

There are still many details left to be ironed out, but the
main message is that the states of Mexico are not waiting for a top-down
answer. They are ready to move forward now. 

It’s unclear if the five states will join together under one
official name or slogan, but what is clear is that they are working as a unit
to promote an authentic Mexican experience. A website is planned once more
funds are available. 

“We are promoting the big cities like Mexico City,
Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta as well as the colonial cities inland,”
Lancaster Jones said.

A similar initiative was signed by the northeastern states
of Mexico, including Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua and Coahuila.

The dissolution of the CPTM, Lancaster Jones said, is a
shame, but there will always be something happening. “If we don’t do
anything, we won’t get anywhere. Every one [of the five states] has pitched in,”
she said. “This is a team effort.”

That sentiment was widespread among the big tourism players
across the Tianguis trade show floor.

Lopez Obrador has redirected funding that once supported the
tourism board to the development of a 200-plus-mile rail route that will link
Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche, Chiapas and Tabasco, making once
out-of-the-way sites in those states more accessible to mainstream tourism.

Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group, said that
reallocating Mexico’s marketing budget to the new railroad was
counterproductive. 

“In the end, we need to keep investing in
infrastructure,” Zozaya allowed, “but lack of promotion and publicity
is killing the chicken that laid the golden egg. If you take gasoline out of
automobiles, they won’t run. The tourist will have the choice of going
somewhere else, and we are competing against the whole world.”

At the opening ceremony of this year’s event, Luis Barrios
Sanchez, head of the National Association of Hotel Chains, addressed Lopez
Obrador directly, making the case that while the government ultimately stands
behind the president’s plans to help make Mexico safer, sustainable and better
for its citizens, the need for marketing and promotion is a necessity.

“We need your support to have capital to carry out
Mexico’s tourism promotion,” Sanchez told Lopez Obrador. “However,
the financing of this work cannot leave behind the effort of attraction of
tourism.” 

Sanchez asked the president to have the federal government
contribute $125 million per year, about 0.5% of the revenue that tourism brings
to the country.

Fatima Aviles, a representative of the office of Visit Baja
California, agreed, saying that, going forward, “We have to use our
imaginations.”

The closing of the CPTM has forced regional tourism boards
to become more creative.

Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism
Board, said, “There are different challenges and different views. But what
we have to do is concentrate on performing better every day. We have the
responsibility to keep working hard and moving forward.”

Because the rail construction is expected to get underway
next year, the Yucatan city of Merida has been chosen as the 2020 location for
Tianguis.

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