Safety was one of the principal concerns of agents attending the Mexico Workshop at TravelAge West’s ExecConnect event. However, to Mexico’s credit, two of the three panelists were not from Mexico, but had fallen in love with the country’s beauty and culture, and have stayed in Mexico for more than 10 years. Jeanette Rigter, who is Dutch, represented the Riviera Maya region for the panel, and Andrea Carneiro, director of sales and marketing for Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, is from Brazil. Also representing Mexico was Luis Villasenor from the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board where he is the promotions manager.
The panel began by touching on some growing trends and some quintessentially Mexican trends. While medical tourism grows — Puerto Vallarta is known for its dental and orthodontic procedures — romance remains a favorite reason for couples to visit the country.
Carneiro reminded agents that there is always a reason to return to Mexico for a romantic getaway.
“One trend is returning visitors,” she said. “People want to come back and see what’s happening in Mexico. They know that the destination continues to grow and develop, and they want to return and see what’s new.”
Cultural travel is also a major driver for clients traveling to Mexico, and the panelists touched on some of the best events that agents can use to drive traffic to the country and sell more Mexico. One of the biggest events is the end of the Maya calendar, which is scheduled to take place in September of 2012. Many people believe that this is the end of the world, according to Maya culture, but Rigter explained that this is just the end of an era.
“This is just the end of the Maya calendar,” she said. “It ends the same way our calendar ends every year; it’s just some 2,500 years later.”
Other notable events that drive visitors to Mexico include the Sea Turtle Festival, which takes place every May to September, the Day of the Dead, the PGA golf tournament and the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, which takes place over the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend and is a free event.
Also, this year, Guadalajara will host the Pan American Games from Oct. 14-30. Sailing, beach volleyball, open-water swimming and other watersports will take place in nearby Puerto Vallarta.
“There is always something to celebrate in Mexico,” said Villasenor.
Of course, safety was a major concern for the panel attendees and, with confusing state department warnings and a barrage of bad publicity from an overzealous media, panelists had a lot to overcome.
“There are problem areas, but Riviera Maya is as far from the border areas as Chicago is from Los Angeles,” said Rigter.
Panelists spent time helping agents find ways to dispel safety fears for their clients. From the humorous to the serious, here are a few tips that came up during the discussion:
* “If it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t have so many celebrities coming to visit us.”
* “Respect the laws and traditions of the culture.”
* “It’s important to be a normal human being. If you look for trouble, you will find it.”
* “Hotels are still experiencing high occupancy levels, which means that people are still traveling to Mexico.”
* “Jalisco has the highest population of U.S. expatriates in the country.”
* “Tourists are not a target. Visitors should be the most scared of the spicy sauces.”
Panelists provided some resources to help agents overcome client fears and explained what the country is doing to dispel those fears.
* “One of our biggest challenges is media sensationalism,” said Villasenor. In light of this, many destinations, including the Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta, are bringing members of the media to these destinations to demonstrate the safety of each region. The hope is that journalists will write positive press stories that will outweigh the negative image that has been created by drug cartel violence.
* In addition, panelists also mentioned a number of online resources for agents to pass on to clients that are useful in dispelling the myths of violence in tourist areas. These resources include testimonials of previous visitors and expatriates, web cams, Facebook pages and YouTube videos.