Already beset by challenges in selling Mexico, travel advisors and agency groups have concerns over its new government’s decision to decimate the Mexico Tourism Board, a key provider of marketing support, training and tourism promotion.
In recent weeks, the government announced its intentions to close nearly all of the tourism board’s 21 international offices and divert funds for tourism promotion toward construction of a new railway along the Riviera Maya.
Loss of a Partner
With national tourism support all but gone, Mexico suppliers and local tourism offices will need to play an even greater role than they do already in destination training and marketing, said Albert Herrera, senior vice president, global product partnerships, for Virtuoso, a network of travel agencies in the luxury sector.
But while local tourism organizations play an important part, the loss of the Mexico Tourism Board is somewhat akin to an orchestra losing its conductor, he noted.
“The parent tourism board makes sure the messaging is aligned and that there’s consistency in the value proposition,” Herrera said. “They provide a consolidated and shared plan for growing the destination.”
With hotels and other infrastructure expanding at a fast pace in Mexico’s most popular resort destinations, the need for support from a national tourism board is crucial, he added.
“There’s tremendous tourism investment going on, especially in the luxury segment,”Herrera said. “These investors partner with the local entities to make sure the infrastructure — airports, roads, security, etc. — keeps up with it. It takes a consolidated effort to open up a world-class destination and the tourist board has a role in this.”
Expanded tourism offerings also makes support for destination training even more important, he added.
“We have a lot of new travel advisors coming into industry and they are craving information,” Herrera said. “There’s a tremendous amount of new product in Mexico to keep up with.”
Stephen McGillivray, chief marketing and communications officer for Travel Leaders Group, is also concerned about a potential loss of destination education opportunities for travel advisors, “as many destination specialist programs are supported and developed by the tourism offices in the U.S.”
Cooperative Advertising Money Impacted
Equally troubling would be a reduction in cooperative advertising to partners, resulting in fewer marketing and promotional campaigns for Mexico tourism, he said.
“However, Mexico is an extremely popular destination, so we will seek ways to promote Mexico with our cruise, tour and resort partners,” he said.
Mexico’s destination marketing organizations, which rely on matching funds and other support from the national tourism board, also have cause for concern, especially now that more of the promotional burden is placed on them.
Murphy said recent growth in Mexico’s visitor numbers and tourism revenue owes a lot to efforts from the Mexico Tourism Board.
“These offices are responsible for promoting and marketing the country through creative advertising, travel industry partnerships, and sales campaigns, constantly lending their invaluable support to delegations from destinations like ours in trade shows, seminars and presentations around the world,” he said.
Closure of the tourism offices, Murphy added, would adversely affect not only Mexico’s status as the world’s sixth-most visited destination, but “the millions of Mexicans whose very lives depend on the revenue generated by our visitors.”
The closure of the tourist board will have a far more negative impact on Mexico than it will on travel advisors selling the destination, said Olga Ramudo, owner of Express Travel in Miami.
“This is a big mistake for the Mexican government, especially since it comes at a time when there are travel advisories in place and people are worried about traveling there,” Ramudo said. “It will harm them much more than it will us. We have other destinations to sell.”
That being said, she will miss the support the Mexico Tourism Board has given her agency over the years.
“They were always there for us. We’d have a travel fair and Mexico would participate,” Ramudo said. “They were supportive of us — and for the industry as a whole — with training and seminars. They created awareness and education for the destination.”
Dawn Ardito of Purple Martin Vacations in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, is also among advisors who will greatly miss support, which included in-person training as well as webinars, from the Mexico Tourist Board.
“Beyond the destination training they provided, they set the tone for how we can talk to our clients and dispel myths about the safety of traveling there,” she said. “They’ve been an active partner for us over the past couple of years, so I’m very surprised this is happening. It’s leaving a real hole.”
Like Ramudo, Ardito is especially surprised that the tourism offices would close during a time when negative perception issues still surround the destination.
“I have a number of clients who are absolutely set against traveling to Mexico, which is frustrating as it’s such a good value,” she said. “All I can do is tell them I travel there myself and bring my family.”
Tourism Board Didn’t Do Enough
Michele Cartwright, owner of Destinations by Design in Columbia, S.C., said her own reliance on the Mexico Tourism Board has been minimal, with most training on new Mexico products coming from suppliers such as Apple Vacations and Vacation Express.
Cartwright also doesn’t think the tourist board played an effective role in tourism promotion and wished it had done more to counteract perception issues. Two of her Mexico-bound clients recently canceled trips out of safety concerns.
“Travel advisors are the ones who are promoting Mexico to our clients,” she said. “My concern is that we need a force on our side to strengthen awareness of Mexico as a safe destination. I don’t know that the tourist office did a great job on this.”
Jennifer Hawthorn, owner of Cruising Crazy in Little Rock, has mixed feelings about the closure.
“I feel it will have minimal impact on destination training, as the majority of our suppliers already have training in place,” she said. “However, it could be very damaging to Mexico tourism, as people will see this as bad news. I’m constantly talking to clients who ask about whether they should go.”