The spectacular coasts and landscape of Mexico have long attracted tourists from all over the world, with the UNWTO putting the country at the number 10 spot globally for 2011. Mexico attracted 22.67 million international travellers in 2011, an increase of 2% year-on-year. As “end of the world” tourism fever takes hold, Mexico is hoping it can ride the wave of the 2011 “Year of Tourism” to achieve its goal of being among the top 5 most visited countries in the world.
With 29 sites declared “patrimonies of humanity” by UNESCO, 62 ethnic groups, and more than 30,000 archeological zones, the Mexican tourism industry has managed to maintain growth in recent years, despite the security concerns that have plagued the industry, and which have led to the cancellation of cruise ship visits to destinations such as Acapúlco and Mazatlán, as well as a possible decline in “day trip” tourism across the border from the US.
President Calderón has attached significant importance to the industry over his term of office, with more than Ps31 billion ($2.47 billion) invested in infrastructure, products, and promotions. “Today, we have a 98% repeat visitor rate and 99 out of every 100 visitors recommends our destinations, above all for extraordinary Mexican hospitality,” commented Gloria Guevara, Secretary of Tourism, at the 2012 Tianguis Turístico, an annual travel trade show. Indeed, the event attracted 7,000 attendees in 2011, up 75% from the previous year.
Mexico’s tourism sector currently represents around 15% of GDP, and the country was ranked as the world’s 10th most visited tourist
destination in 2010, down from its high of seventh place in 2007. However, President Calderón announced his plan to see Mexico rise to fifth position in the wake of the “Year of Tourism,” and efforts such as the Mundo Maya, or “Mayan World” campaign are seen as key to making 2012 a banner year. As the 400-year Mayan cycle comes to an end, attention has been heaped on Mexico as it looks to capitalize on “end of the world” tourism and boost visitor numbers to Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán.
Interest is also growing in the country’s MICE tourism industry, which in 2010 contributed 1.43% to national GDP. Mexico’s cities, such as Cancún, are now looking to grab a slice of the rise in global events tourism.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS
According to a study prepared by the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, international tourism revenues dropped over the January-March high season to $3.32 billion in 2011, from $3.66 billion in 2010. A decline in border tourist spending seems to be the culprit, with lost revenues estimated at over $450 million between January and May 2011. However, the drop in visitors from the US seems to be unrelated to security concerns, as the number of US visitors to Mexico actually increased as a percentage of total international holidaymakers, which overall was down 4.1%, suggesting economic concerns at home as the main reason for the drop in visitors to Mexico.
Approximately 16.7 million Mexican travellers visited tourist spots around the country in 2011, giving a boost to the sector and offsetting a slowdown in growth in international tourism in 2011, when overall visitor numbers grew by 2%, compared to growth of over 5% in 2010. Also working to counteract a drop of 3% in the number of US visitors arriving by air is the increasing number of visitors arriving from further afield. In August 2011, visitor numbers increased from 145 countries around the world, with the number of Brazilians touching down increasing by 59.5%, Russians by 55%, and Ecuadoreans by 29.6%. European and Asian visitors also increased, with the numbers of visitors from the UK and Italy growing by 19.6% and 13.1%, respectively, and the number of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tourists increasing by 14.2%, 18.9%, and 10.6%, respectively. Additionally, hotel occupation rates grew by 2.3% year-on-year between January and May 2011, with international visitors tourism spending also growing by 3%.
Quintana Roo continues to lead growth in the Mexican-Caribbean area, especially in cities such as Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancún. “The average occupation rate over the last decade in the region has been about 70%, which has positioned the region as the main tourist destination in the whole country,” Máximo García Rocha, Director of the Tourism Development Fund of Benito Juárez, told TBY in an interview.
END OF THE WORLD?
As Chichén Itzá was once the center of the Mayan civilization, the Mexican authorities hope to make it the center of their Mayan World campaign, timed to coincide with the end of a Mayan calendar period, or the “end of the world.” It is hoped that the campaign will lead to a revival in the sector and help it reach the peak it attained in 2008, before the onset of the global economic crisis slashed visitor numbers. Based around the states of Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán, the campaign will see new sites opened up to visitors, supported by new hotels, an ecological reserve, and a new archaeology museum in Cancún. Plans for a bullet train to take tourists between old ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas state have also been announced. New visitor sites will also add to the six sites in the Maya region that are already UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Palenque, Chichén Itzá, Calakmul, Uxmal, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, and the city of Amurrada de Campache. These sites currently receive around 250,000 visitors monthly, both domestic and international.
In addition to the country’s Meso-American ruins, Mexico also boasts colonial cities and abundant beach resorts. Peak seasons include December, mid-summer, and surges during “spring break,” when border regions receive a boost in visitor numbers from US students. Some of the main destinations away from the beaches include Mexico City, which plays host to the Plaza de Toros, the world’s largest bullring, as well as the Mexican National Palace. It is also the perfect launch point for trips to the Aztec city of Teotihuacan, home to the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, draws tourists with its famous tequila and mariachi music and is the second biggest city in the country, drawing tourists on par with more traditional beach destinations such as Cancún and Acapúlco.
Although Mexico is currently only the 30th ranked MICE tourism destination in the world, its potential for MICE tourism remains high in the minds of industry leaders. “There is a huge potential in MICE tourism, for Mexico is one of the top 10 touristic destinations. We should work toward matching both fields, for it offers clear future benefits,” Javier Gámez Bautista, Director of Cancún Center, told TBY. Cancún hosts 30% of Mexico’s MICE tourism, and is the 70th most popular MICE destination in the world. The Mexico Tourism Board has also taken note, announcing that meetings account for as much as 18% of the country’s total travel and tourism demand. Statistics from 2010 also show that MICE contributed 1.43% to GDP, injecting over $18 billion into the economy. In real terms, this equated to 23 million individuals, both domestic and foreign, participating in 200,000 events across the country, generating 24.2 million room nights in 2010. Results of a study by the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism also remarked that the average meeting attendee spends 50% more than a traditional visitor.
Investment continues apace in the sector, with the amount of capital injected into the sector increasing from Ps41 million to Ps1.26 billion over the last four years.
In order to boost international attention, a zero VAT rule has been applied to international meetings. The sector is supported by over 57 international airports, 495,000 hotel rooms for conventions, and over 12 million square feet of event space in over 50 cities, all making Mexico even more the place to meet.
© The Business Year