Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
TORONTO — Just days after Mexico Tourism Board’s Montreal office shut its doors, comes more confirmation that just about all of the MTB’s international offices will close.
Considering how important tourism is for Mexico, does the news of these closures have to be so shrouded in confusion?
In a story that ran in the Jan. 24, 2019 issue of Travelweek, Marc Murphy, Director General for the Riviera Nayarit CVB, also confirmed that the decision to close the Mexico Tourism Board offices worldwide had already been made and that the closures will likely start happening over the course of this year.
As Murphy put it, it’s sad news and still unbelievable considering all the work the MTB does and the value their offices bring to source markets.
Rumours started swirling in fall 2018 that Mexico’s new government was looking at potentially closing the MTB offices as a cost-cutting measure.
The new government under newly-elected President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office on Dec. 1, 2018 but even before that, in late November 2018, Mexico’s travel media outlets were reporting that the Tourism Promotion Council of Mexico (CPTM) would “disappear”, with the president of the Tourism Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, Luis Alegre Salazar, saying “the Tourism Promotion Council of Mexico is disintegrating”.
The news seemed to be confirmed in early December by new Secretary of Tourism Miguel Torruco, who said that elimination of the CPTM was indeed underway as part of the new government’s austerity strategy.
According to both Salazar and Torruco, Mexico’s consulates and embassies are supposed to pick up the slack, promoting Mexico in global markets.
Meanwhile the money saved from dissolving the CPTM and closing the MTB offices will reportedly be diverted to funding the so-called Mayan Train, the 1,500-kilometre rail line linking Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and the Yucatan. The proposed $7.4 billion railway is aimed at creating more economic development in some of Mexico’s top tourism destinations.
There will still be resources for promotion, but exact specifics are still up in the air.
Even with all the confirmations, the idea that Mexico would close its long-standing MTB offices – and hand the tourism promotion file over to its consulates and embassies instead – seemed so preposterous that the question kept coming: Will they close or won’t they?
As reported by Travelweek’s sister publication ProfessionVoyages.com, the Montreal office closed the doors on its Place Ville Marie location, which had been open to the industry and to the public, on Jan. 31, 2019. Fernanda Rosas, Director of Mexico’s Tourism Promotion Board in Montreal, and her collaborators Gabriel Gordona and Lorena Torres are currently working from home and available to help with industry requests, according to ProfessionVoyages.com. In a few weeks it’s expected that Mexican tourism promotion in Montreal will be deployed under the direction of the Mexican Consulate. It’s also been confirmed that the Toronto MTB office will close its doors.
Meanwhile every sun wholesaler in Canada has Mexico product and a major vested interest in keeping Mexico destinations front and centre with travellers and the trade.
Canada is one of the largest markets for Mexico tourism, delivering close to two million travellers to the country annually.
While we’re a distant second to the U.S. – Mexico’s top market with more than 10 million visitors a year – Canada is a staunch supporter of Mexico’s tourism product at a time when confusion over the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories for Mexico has led to a dip in U.S. visitor numbers and lift. Mexico’s safety challenges, though localized, are also well-known, with one industry insider here saying that Mexico shouldn’t be closing its tourism offices but instead focusing on marketing efforts and keeping people safe.
For Transat, Mexico represents 34% of its capacity, making it Transat’s top sun destination. The first resort in Transat’s much-anticipated hotel division is scheduled to open in Puerto Morelos on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, in 2020.
Mexico is also one of Sunwing’s most consistently popular destinations, says Andrew Dawson, President of Tour Operations for Sunwing Vacations. Sunwing has eight sun arrival airports across Mexico for winter 2018-19 including Acapulco, Cancun, Cozumel, Huatulco, Ixtapa, Los Cabos, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta – not to mention nearby destinations such as Playa Mujeres, Isla Holbox, Puerto Escondido and Riviera Nayarit. “We have always enjoyed a close relationship with the Mexico Tourist Board and welcome their support as we continue to expand our Mexican product range,” says Dawson.
And it’s not just the tour operators, but the hotel companies too who work closely with the Mexico Tourism Board to promote travel to Mexico. Frank Maduro, VP of Marketing for AIC Hotel Group, the company behind Hard Rock Hotels, says Mexico as a destination “is extremely important to our company”, with four properties in Mexico currently and another two set to open this year. “This means that more than half of our room inventory is in the destination. We continue to believe and invest in Mexico as it is a proven world-class tourism destination. Its people and infrastructure provide a vacation experience that is second to none.”
Other resort companies sharpening their focus on Mexico in recent years include AMResorts, with 10 new resort openings in the country by 2020 alone.
An article written by Murphy before the new government took office says “there’s no doubt” that the biggest reason the world knows about Mexico’s tourism product “is due to the efforts consistently put forth by the Mexico Tourism Board (MTB) offices worldwide”.
Slashing budgets and trimming expenses in just about every aspect of the government may be a worthy proposition on some levels, says Murphy, but the idea of shuttering the 46 offices of the Mexico Tourism Board abroad could very well have a chilling effect on one of the country’s top sources of revenue. Tourism is huge for Mexico, and Canada will be watching.
Murphy added: “The incoming administration has indicated they don’t believe the current numbers justify the current marketing expenses of the international offices. I would beg to differ.”