FULL OF SURPRISES

Mexico 2013 | TOURISM | REVIEW: TOURISM

Mexico is already well known for its all-inclusive resorts, cuisine, and cultural heritage. In 2013, its colonial history and MICE offerings are the tourism sector's highlights.

Buoyed by a new wave of domestic tourists and government promotion, Mexico's large tourism industry continues to make a significant contribution to the country's GDP. Increased visitor numbers, new destinations, and a campaign to promote Mexico abroad as a MICE tourism hub are indications of a country that has come back full force in the wake of financial turmoil on the North American continent.

Representing 9% of GDP, the Mexican government has acknowledged that the further development of the sector could impact the greater economy. To this end, changing the negative perceptions of the security situation in the country and investing heavily in infrastructure projects, building roads, modernizing airports, and renovating urban areas have all been key parts of the public agenda.

According to World Bank reports, Mexico is currently the 10th most visited country in the world. In 2012, 23.1 million tourists visited the country, and from December 2012 to February 2013, Banco de México reported that 6.4 million foreign tourists entered the country, representing a 12% year-on-year increase. A total of 70% of the foreign arrivals were staying in major resort areas.

Since the average tourist spends approximately $750 in Mexico, the collective input from domestic and international visitors reached $12 billion in 2012. According to government figures, a greater number of foreign tourists who are spending more money in Mexico is alsoexpected to boost local economies, with a 7.7% increase in international visitor spending noted in 2012. According to research conducted by the Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR), foreign tourists spent $3.6 billion in 1Q2012, with $3.9 billion accounted for during the same period this year. The number of tourists entering the country through airports also increased by 5% year on year, from 3.3 million to 3.5 million people.

SOURCES OF INVESTMENT

As the leading public entity serving the sector, SECTUR believes that the industry plays a key role in the economic, regional, communal, and national development of Mexico. However, the government also realizes the need to change the negative image of Mexico by promoting it as a safe and secure destination for tourists of all backgrounds. Tourism operators working in conjunction with the public sector are also seeking ways to promote the country's less-popular destinations, highlighting unspoiled beaches and the potential for investment. “We want travelers to see Mexico as a warm country that always receives tourists with open arms," Claudia Ruiz Massieu Salinas, Mexico's Secretary of Tourism, told TBY. “Thanks to its diversity, variety, and offerings, it is a place that satisfies the demands and necessities of its visitors with high-quality touristic products," she added.

To change any negative perceptions about security in Mexico, the administration is working to implement more ways for tourists to connect with public servants. In the event of an emergency, SECTUR is aiming to equip police and other emergency responders with training specifically for tourists, as well as build facilities where tourists can access information in their native language. In this way, tourism is trending to become yet safer and more interactive in 2013.

In an interview with the press in May 2013, Secretary Massieu Salinas also stipulated that Mexico was looking to adopt policies that make it easier for foreigners to invest in the tourism sector. Noting that the country could become the eighth most popular tourist destination in the medium term, SECTUR emphasizes that more FDI would create additional jobs and support many segments of the overall economy. More than $4.6 billion worth of investments has been allocated for 2013, which means that many of the projects that were put on hold during the most recent economic crisis are being re-launched.

One company seeking to capitalize on the huge investment potential in the tourism sector is Canadian tour operator and hotelier Sunwing Travel. In June 2013, the company agreed to invest more than $250 million in Mexican tourist resorts. One part of its larger project is a 1,250-room hotel—the Royalton Riviera Cancún in Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo. According to an interview with Secretary Ruiz Massieu Salinas, construction on the hotel is set to begin in 2014.

On the government side, various projects in urban and undeveloped areas are underway to showcase the potential the tourism sector still holds. Currently, government funding for 14 tourism infrastructure projects is being negotiated. One of the most significant projects is the $11.6 million investment in Quintana Roo, which is part of an agreement SECTUR signed with the municipal government. As the epicenter of Meso-American artifacts, museums, and ruins, Quintana Roo attracts a little under 50% of Mexico's tourism earnings, at a value of $4.3 billion.

YOUR BUSINESS

Beyond attracting FDI from overseas, Mexico is also focused on drawing businesspeople to explore the country as a prime location for international events and other MICE activities. According to SECTUR, business tourism accounts for 1.4% of Mexico's overall GDP, with the majority of events held in the cities of Cancún, Guadalajara, and Mexico City.

To further promote the country, the Mexican Tourism Promotional Council spends $4 million annually to advertise Mexico's many assets, such as the presence of over 3,000 five- and four-star hotels, a number of which feature conference halls and other amenities for businesspeople. According to the council, every businessman or woman who visits Mexico spends approximately $1,250 during his or her stay, or $500 more than the average tourist.

The Secretariat of Tourism for Mexico City is another active player in the field of promotion. In 2012, the organization went to 25 of the biggest cities in the country as well as South and Central America to meet with approximately 2,000 international journalists and media personnel. In addition to the classic MICE tourism necessities of convention halls and conference space, the Secretary, Miguel Torruco Marqués, emphasized the city's wide range of uniqueofferings such as medical tourism packages, four UNESCO sites, 1,400 colonial buildings, and 176 museums. As part of an aggressive marketing plan in the US, the government of Mexico City has been working with the Mexican Tourism Board in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Dallas, and Chicago. “We have to launch several different campaigns for these different targets to help boost tourism," the Secretary explained.

THE RESTORATION

In line with the government's goal to highlight a few of Mexico's lesser-known destinations, projects are being launched in cities across the country to restore the glory of colonial-era architecture and create new infrastructure so that tourists can better enjoy it. In Mazatlán, a major new tourism attraction is being created by hundreds of workers who are restoring the colonial splendor of a vast section of the city. Currently, dozens of blocks of long-neglected buildings are benefiting from a facelift that will shift the city away from its tainted past and expose the diamonds in the rough. Dubbed the Tourist Pedestrian Corridor, the $3 million project has been under construction since 2012. When completed, streets and sidewalks will be renewed as cobblestone lanes and brick walkways lined by trees and 19th century-style lampposts. In May 2013, the Secretariat of Tourism also held an event focusing on the mudéjar and baroque styles of Spanish architecture, decoration, and music, which was brought to Mexico during the colonial era. In collaboration with the Public Andalusian Foundation, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation in Development, the National Council for Culture and the Arts, and SECTUR, ways are being devised to develop mudéjar architecture, cuisine, and art as possible new tourism products. The colonial influences of Spain are visible throughout Mexico, but are most recognized in the states of Oaxaca, Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz.