|Tourism: Campaign to attract new visitors pays off
For years, Ivan Ignatievich has been going on family holidays in and around his native Russia. But last year, he tried something different: an all-inclusive resort hotel south of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
“Very nice,” he said in a thick accent as he sipped on a piña colada by the pool. “Very warm.”
Mr Ignatievich may not know it but he and his family are the new face of international tourism in Mexico. In the past two years, the number of visitors from the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, has increased at rates above 50 per cent a year.
The surge is the result of the most aggressive campaign to promote tourism in Mexico’s history. During the past two years, Gloria Guevara, the tourism minister, has been travelling the world, seeking out markets and working to make things easier for non-traditional visitors to go to Mexico.
“It’s all about diversification and exploring new growth markets,” she told the FT last month. The aim, she says, is to turn Mexico into one of the world’s top five tourist destinations by 2018 from 10th place currently.
One aspect of that work has been to streamline and simplify the visa-application process. As of May 2010, for example, any person holding a passport with a valid US visa can visit Mexico without further paperwork.
In the case of Russia and China, the time it takes to receive a Mexican visa has come down from 45 days to just three. That, says Ms Guevara, has helped prise open a market that did not exist before.
“We realised that a lot of people were not coming because it was too difficult,” she says. “We have changed all of that.”
The broadening of Mexico’s customer base has not come a moment too soon. The country’s image as a tourism hub has faced challenges in recent years as Latin America’s second-largest economy finds itself in the midst of a battle against well-armed drugs cartels.
The violence has produced about 50,000 drug-related deaths since President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party came to power at the end of 2006. Unsurprisingly, the news of decapitations, extortion and kidnappings has dominated much of the international press.
The recent travel advisory issued by the state of Texas warning residents to avoid travel to Mexico – a move heavily criticised by the Mexican government – has hardly helped.
At the same time, the number of US citizens travelling abroad declined10 per cent between 2008 and 2011 to 36m as the US financial crisis and ensuing global recession took hold. As the most popular foreign destination for Americans – US visitors account for about 60 per cent of total – Mexico has been particularly exposed.
To counteract the falling numbers, authorities in 2010 began a media campaign in the US to promote “the Mexico you thought you knew”. Put simply, the strategy consists of promoting Mexico’s cultural and geographical heritage beyond the traditional “sun and beach” profile.
Among the new offerings are more than a dozen themed tours, including cuisine in the state of Puebla, archaeological excursions in the Yucatán peninsula and, of course, the tequila tour in the state of Jalisco.
The idea, says Rodolfo López-Negrete, who heads the country’s Tourism Board, is to attract a new crowd of North American tourists by offering a wider range of holiday activities. “Mexico is so much more than beaches,” he said.
The tourism board is also about to launch a second advertising drive to reassure US citizens that Mexico is a safe destination in spite of the military-led offensive against the cartels. The campaign will consist of candid-camera interviews with people who have just returned home after spending their holidays in Mexico.
So far, the strategy seems to be working. According to figures from the country’s immigration authorities, 22.7m tourists visited Mexico last year – higher than the previous record in 2008. Meanwhile, Mexico’s market share of US tourists travelling abroad has increased from 14.6 per cent of the total in 2008 to 15.3 per cent.
For businessmen such as Carlos Berdegue, who owns the El Cid chain of hotels, the campaigns have helped build an average occupancy rate last year of 85 per cent – an 8 per cent increase over the previous year.
“I’m happy,” he says. “Things are definitely improving.”
International hotel groups are also upbeat. InterContinental Hotels Group expects its franchise holders to invest US$550m in Mexico over the next five years. Gerardo Murray, the group’s vice-president of sales, says that the plan is to build 47 hotels around the country during that time.
+ Wexico http://news.wexico.com/tourism/17apr2012/tourism-campaign-to-attract-new-visitors-pays-off.htm
With prospects for the US economy improving slightly this year, Ms Guevara believes that the combination of recovering numbers from North America and new visitors from non-traditional markets will bring in 25m foreign tourists this year. If she is right, it would be a record.
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