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The sudden dissolution of the Mexico Tourism Board in February dismayed many in the country’s meetings industry, striking a blow to both leisure and business travel.
In Los Cabos, however, the local tourism board was prepared. The resort city gets a good chunk of its tourism from events, and its response was quick and powerful, setting up a private trust and building up its meetings program. Now other destinations in Mexico are following suit, looking at the Los Cabos model to ramp up their own events industry in the wake of the board’s closure.
“The destination is really moving forward in a very strong way in the meetings industry, because the future of Los Cabos — in terms of what is happening with the hotels and infrastructure — is completely connected to the meetings industry,” said Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of Visit Los Cabos, the city’s tourism board.
Esponda previously spent 17 years working with the Mexico Tourism Board, and now that the board is dissolved, he’s determined to keep Los Cabos running strong. Events are central to the resort city, which is located at the southernmost tip of Baja California. One in three events that take place in Mexico happen in Los Cabos, and 20 percent of the destination’s total room nights come from corporate events, according to the Los Cabos Tourism Board.
The city ranked number six in Cvent’s 2019 top meeting planners list for all of Latin America, with Playa del Carmen, Mexico, ranked number two, and Cancún, Mexico, ranked number three. It was one of the destinations that improved the most over the past year, rising four spots since 2018.
When the tourism board was up and running, Esponda explained, it would help cities plan their events strategy for the upcoming year and provide them with funding to boost their marketing efforts and improve their infrastructure. Now, Esponda said, destinations are mostly reliant on the private sector for funding and must develop strategies internally.
Los Cabos is well-prepared to meet this challenge. The Los Cabos Tourism Board is entirely funded by the private sector, getting money from from HotelPAC as well as voluntary donations.
On top of this, the destination has a solid meetings program in place. This program brings together key players from around the events industry, which work together to create a strategy for the year.
“We have already formed a cluster of meetings professionals, and this is a framework you can use in other destinations as well,” said Esponda. “You connect key members of the meetings industry that represent different types of groups. So we have representatives from destination marketing companies and from suppliers. We have some representatives of the hotel associations, the airport, the municipality, and certain authorities. The idea is that you connect a small group, and what we do is we strategize and we develop a plan for next year in order to advance collectively the destination for the meetings industry.”
Evidence of the strength of this program is clear. Los Cabos in September opened an office in Los Angeles, making it the only destination within Mexico to have an external office. Without a central tourism board, it’s up to individual destinations to market themselves externally, and not all have the money.
Los Cabos also negotiated air routes with key cities, including New York and Los Angeles.
A Model For The Industry
The resort city is lucky, however. The destination has huge name recognition and good infrastructure in place for business travelers. It has a modern airport with good access to the city via the highway, a variety of big-name hotels, and a large, recently renovated convention center.
There is something there for other destinations in Mexico, however, despite the outsize advantages Los Cabos has. Los Cabos’ strong internal meetings program and its experience negotiating private funding make it a model for other cities, according to Esponda.
And destinations know this. Local tourism boards across Mexico have come to Los Cabos to learn from it, and Los Cabos is sharing the knowledge.
“Everybody’s asking about it,” Esponda said. “For example, Puerto Vallarta and Nayarit — We are talking to them and explaining and sharing what we’re doing. Even the smaller destinations are asking, and we have been very open with all of them.”
Recently, the resort city hosted a meetings industry conference, where it laid out its events strategy. Although Esponda works for Los Cabos specifically, he believes that bringing outside events into Mexico, especially if they’re well known, is good for Mexico in general and ultimately good for Los Cabos.
“Many destinations see what we are doing in the meetings industry, and we are a model of how these things have to be conducted,” Esponda said. “All of these strategies, the other destinations in Mexico want to know about it, how we work with the private sector, and we’re sharing that information. And they’re trying to replicate it.”
Mexico has a long history with Meetings Professionals International, one of the largest industry associations for planners worldwide, and Esponda believes the country will always have a solid presence in the meetings industry. Still, the closure of the tourism board shook the industry, leaving some destinations without a clear path to success.
“I think we’ll be better off the more that we share the strategy and other destinations start moving in the same direction,” Esponda said. “That definitely will help Mexico, and it will help Los Cabos.”