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Staff members of the closed Los Angeles office of the Mexico Tourism Board have regrouped by forming Studio Jungla, a destination marketing company they hope will mitigate damage from Mexico’s decision earlier this year to decimate the government’s tourism marketing arm.
Studio Jungla is currently negotiating with regional destinations in Mexico to handle marketing on their behalf in the western U.S., according to Alejandro Marin, a former employee of the Los Angeles office who founded the new company. To date, Studio Jungla has reached agreements to promote Bahía de Altata and the Yucatan. It also recently signed a contract to promote Acapulco in collaboration with Main Connections, a company in Texas formed by the ex-director of the Texas branch of the tourism board, Patty Herrera.
“The smaller ones (destinations) have a tremendous necessity to create awareness,” said Jorge Gamboa, the former director of the Los Angeles office and now a partner in Studio Jungla.
He added that marketing efforts from the Mexican federal government in California are “dead” since the closure of the Los Angeles office.
There was news, however, last week that the Los Cabos Tourism Board opened a Los Angeles office, its first office outside of Mexico. Earlier this year, the federal government shuttered its international offices, and transferred some of the former board’s duties to Mexican embassies.
Studio Jungla aims to fill some of the void created by the closure by offering services that include destination training for travel advisors, digital marketing campaigns and assistance with organizing familiarization trips and events, Marin said.
When rumors of massive cuts to the Mexico Tourism Board began floating through office emails and at events a year ago, the small team in the Los Angeles branch of the country’s tourism board thought they would be safe.
Their office’s efforts had broken tourism records for the previous five years and had made California the leading source of international tourism to Mexico, accounting for 18 percent of the country’s international travel, according to Gamboa.
Despite this, the Los Angeles office was shut down in February along with all but four of Mexico’s 21 international tourism offices around the world.
Taking a Risk
That left the team of long-time employees stunned. Instead of packing up, they decided to form their own company and continue the work of promoting tourism destinations in Mexico that they say will suffer from a lack of promotional support.
“The four of us are risking a lot,” said Marin. “Obviously the easy move would be to move back to our country and get another job in the industry. We are really risking it all.”
Marin was joined by the rest of the former members of the Los Angeles team; the office had been operating in the city since 2000. Among them is Gamboa, who played a key role in founding the country’s Mexico Tourism Board.
“The industry depends upon our programs and projects and activities,” Gamboa said. “That is why we decided to open Studio Jungla in order to create projects and proposals to help various destinations, hoteliers, convention centers etc., and to try to reactivate the industry. It is completely gone.”
Lesser-Known Destinations Hurt
Since the tourism board’s cuts, tour and activities operators in the country have noted a decline in visitors, especially to lesser-known regions of the country outside internationally recognized destinations such as Cancun, Los Cabos, and Cozumel.
The lesser-known regions of the country typically relied heavily on the national marketing efforts to draw visitors.
“We have been working for six months trying to get an income and stay in this market to protect that market which we know is so valuable and important for our country,” Marin said.
The disbandment of the tourism board shifted promotional duties to Mexican embassies around the world and redirected the money toward the Mayan Train project, a 950-mile (1,525-kilometer) project that would cross the Yucatán Peninsula. The only remaining U.S. federal tourism office is located in New York.
The Mexican Tourism Board did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
In May, the Mexican government announced its creation of a Council for Cultural Diplomacy, which would consist of 20 prominent Mexicans it believes represent the best of the country’s cultural identity. Those people were to serve as ambassadors.
In a New York Times article in June, the new head of the tourism board, Gabriela Camara, who is also a member of that council, called the Mexican Tourism Board “completely out of control,” and told the newspaper that she recommended it be closed entirely.
Competitors Take Advantage
While Studio Jungla is attempting to maintain awareness about Mexico in the western U.S., other countries’ tourism boards are gaining ground, according to Gamboa.
“All of the countries that are our competitors are taking advantage of this,” he said. “As an example, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Argentina are taking all the information that we used to have from the travel agents and are taking the events.”
So far, the growth of Studio Jungla has been slow, but the small team is hopeful about its own future. It is also hopeful the government will take action to resume some sort of international tourism marketing.
“All of the other countries in the world have representatives all over the world. Everyone,” Gamboa said. “I hope whatever strategy they have in place comes out successfully, but it’s going to take time.”
Travel Advisor Reaction
While Dan Ilves, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based TravelStore, said he has not yet noticed an impact from the closure of the Mexico Tourism Board office on the travel agency’s Mexico business, he does feel marketing support is needed.
“It’s very important to keep a destination top of mind, especially one that’s so important and close to the USA as Mexico,” Ilves said, adding that problems such as the recent accumulation of seaweed on some Mexican beaches underscores the need.
While Ilves has heard of Studio Jungla, he was uncertain about what the company is.
“It seems they’ve done a poor job communicating with the travel trade about their mission, who they are, how they’re funded etc.,” Ilves said. “They need to get the word out.”
Some of what has been missing since the demise of the Mexican Tourism Board is updates on news such as hotel openings and experiences, changes in airlift and upcoming festivals, Ilves said.
“This sort of intel can be funneled through this type of organization,” he said of Studio Jungla.
Another travel advisor who believes marketing support is crucial for Mexico is Dawn Ardito of Purple Martin Vacations. In particular, she believes such support can help counteract negative perceptions about the safety of the destination.
“The tourism board would give us talking points and data on discussing the situation,” she said. “Clients want to know that Mexico is actively looking into any sort of issues that are going on.”