Visit Mexico, a public-private entity, aims to 're-envision' travel promotion

Two years after the Mexican government shuttered its extensive global network of publicly funded tourism offices, the country is reestablishing international promotional efforts with the launch of a unique, privately funded marketing agency called Visit Mexico that has opened its first office in New York.

Details about the new agency, whose U.S. office is being established by a group of three New York businessman and will operate as Visit Mexico USA under an exclusive partnership, were sparse as the group prepared an official launch this week in Manhattan with Mexican dignitaries.

But those involved say it represents the next step in Mexico’s bold — and to some, questionable — experiment to privatize tourism marketing, public relations and advertising activities that in the destination marketing space traditionally rely on public funding from hotel and visitor taxes.

“It’s fascinating because I don’t think it’s really been done before in the world,” Kent Swig, a commercial real estate investor and one of Visit Mexico USA’s founders, said of the business model. “I think it will be very different and unique. It’s an entirely brand new way of looking at things.”

Visit Mexico, which is self-funded but works in coordination with Mexico’s tourism ministry, said it also plans to establish offices in other locations, including Canada, Japan and major European cities.

The new effort is being driven by a private Mexican company called Braintivity, which was tapped by the government to handle tourism promotion and all of the country’s digital and brand assets after president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2019 disbanded the Mexico Tourism board and shifted its $300 million annual budget to the construction of a train on the Yucatan Peninsula.

To date, Braintivity’s efforts have been largely focused on running the country’s website. And that appears to be the main focus of Visit Mexico USA, which Swig said has a mandate “to revamp the website for Visit Mexico” and to “re-energize and refocus and re-envision the entire marketing, advertising and promotional campaign for tourism into Mexico from the United States.”

In addition to Swig, a prominent businessman whose family founded Fairmont Hotels, principals of Visit Mexico USA include former New York state government official Gary K. Levi and Alvaro Vitolo, an international business development executive with extensive Mexican business experience.

Swig said Visit Mexico USA’s business plan is still under development but that they have assembled a team of “the best of the tourism industry, the best advertising group, the best branding group, public relations, etc.”

Visit Mexico USA is being funded with seed money from Braintivity/Visit Mexico and its founding partners, Swig said. Ongoing funding, he said, will come through private partnerships with everything from hotels to liquor and beer companies, credit card companies, banks, “all of those [entities] that pay money in order to participate in the marketing and branding of Mexican tourism industry. In return, they have to get, obviously, advertising and exposure.”

Swig said the group also hopes to partner with the various regional tourism promotion entities in Mexico. But it was unclear how much the group’s efforts might extend beyond the digital world.

Before it was disbanded, the federally funded Mexico Tourism Board had 21 offices around the globe that worked with the country’s regional tourism boards as well as travel businesses in Mexico on extensive global marketing and advertising campaigns across all media platforms. It also had a prominent presence at global trade shows and hosted its own annual events for the travel trade.

Swig said some of the activities of Visit Mexico USA will be similar to those previously run by the Mexico Tourism Board, “but I think the entire approach look, feel, process and marketing will be very different and very unique.”

Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism board, said he welcomes the new effort and is “definitely open to collaborating with them.”

“I think it’s positive that they are opening an office in New York,” Esponda said, adding that it will give Visit Mexico a broader presence at a time when destinations need to maximize efforts to tap pent-up travel demand.

Esponda said he hasn’t yet met with any officials from Visit Mexico USA and that he knew little about their business plans or how they would fund operations. But he said he has heard from some partners that they had begun setting up meetings with the group.

Esponda said his group and the country’s other regional tourism offices have collaborated with Braintivity over the past few years on digital promotions, including providing videos for the Visit Mexico website and partnering on Instagram campaigns. But he said Los Cabos Tourism, which has its own extensive international marketing, public relations and advertising campaigns, has not provided any funding to the group. 

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