With the Mexico Tourism Board (MTB) soon to dissolve at the national level, tourism suppliers and state marketing organizations are turning to local partnerships to fill in the gap.
“Our current intel is that Mexico’s new administration has decided to shift its focus, dissolving its offices in the United States in order to reallocate government resources and apply them toward tourism developments within Mexico,” Jack E. Richards, president and CEO, Pleasant Holidays, tells Travel Agent. “In the meantime, we continue to work closely with our hotel, activity and tourism board suppliers in Mexico in our top destinations, including Los Cabos, Quintana Roo (Cancun, Cozumel, Riviera Maya) and Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit.”
“In light of recent developments on the national level in Mexico, ALG is enhancing our working relationships with state tourism offices,” agrees Ray Snisky, chief commercial officer for Apple Leisure Group. “It’s a fragmented strategy which is less than ideal, but we continue to believe in the destination and remain committed to engaging travel advisors who sell Mexico.”
“We have been a longtime supporter of Mexico and its suppliers,” said John Van den Heuvel, president, GOGO Vacations. “Our travel agents will still have customers looking to go to Mexico and we’ll do whatever it takes to support them and their travel plans. We do believe the hoteliers, attractions and other tourism partners will step up and present a unified front for the benefit of the hospitality industry and its economic impact on the country. This is an evolving situation. We will continue to assess it and work with our partners for the mutual benefit of the customers and the people in destination who are supported by the tourism industry.”
State tourism boards, meanwhile, are planning new strategies to promote their destinations without support from the national tourism board.
“It’s going to be very challenging,” Richard Zarkin, public relations manager for the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Travel Agent during an interview at this year’s Gala Vallarta, which took place in Puerto Vallarta earlier this month. “As destinations we’re getting together to promote ourselves without the MTB branding.”
“It’s challenging, but we need to be creative,” said Luis Villaseñor, promotion and PR director for the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board. “We have been talking about how to make things different.”
One particular challenge has been tradeshows; according to tourism officials we spoke with at Gala Vallarta, FITUR, which took place in January in Spain, was the last international event for which the federal government provided funding to attend. While plans are not yet final, officials have been discussing the possibility of cooperation among state tourism boards to fund their attendance at future events.
In Los Cabos, the private sector has stepped up to fill in the gap left by the MTB.
“The Los Cabos Tourism Board is funded by a 3 percent hotel tax that goes to promotion,” says managing director Rodrigo Esponda. “That’s a key advantage over other destinations. And the private sector in Los Cabos is very committed, not just this year but in the 20-plus years since the tourism board was formed. The private sector has come to the table with extra funding for whatever is needed to keep up with our priorities and plans.”
The Los Cabos Tourism Board developed these plans at the end of 2018, when it was considering the possibility that there would be no funding from the MTB, Esponda said. The tourism board also plans to maintain and strengthen its connections with the travel trade through its dedicated industry website, which it launched last year, as well as its training and incentive programs.
In the Quintana Roo, which includes the popular destinations of Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, a newly established statewide tourism board is planning to continue the promotion of the state.
“We are ready to continue the promotion of the Mexican Caribbean and its wonderful destinations for the millions of people who visit our state,” Dario Flota Ocampo, director of the Quintana Roo Tourism Board, tells Travel Agent. “We had a very successful high season this year and welcomed more than 8 million international tourists in 2018, an increase of 4 percent compared to the previous year. We look forward to working with all of our tourism partners and welcoming many millions more in the coming months and years.”
At the same time, other tourism industry executives Travel Agent has spoken with have raised concerns about the end of the national tourism board, particularly as the country comes off a year of negative headlines in the consumer media regarding safety.
“There are a disproportionate number of sensational headlines in U.S. media about Mexico, making this the ideal time to be investing in promotion of the country,” says Tom Brussow, president of Sunsational Beach Vacations and YesToMexico, an organization he founded along with other travel industry leaders at the end of last year to balance the narrative surrounding travel safety in the country. “While YesToMexico was formed to correct misrepresentations and provide sorely needed context about the destination, this decision harms the thousands employed in the industry and is counterproductive to the MTB’s work to generate positive stories and play a major role in correcting the narrative.”