Tailoring the Mexico Experience

Mexico is more than sun and beach, so start considering the country for adventure and culture travel By: Mindy Poder
Gerardo Llanes of the Mexico Tourism Board (left) and Ramon Ascencio of Hotel Finisterra offer advice to travel agents who want to create unique...
Gerardo Llanes of the Mexico Tourism Board (left) and Ramon Ascencio of Hotel Finisterra offer advice to travel agents who want to create unique vacations in Mexico. // © 2012 Deborah Dimond

The key message from Mexico’s tourism representatives at this year’s ExecConnect Elite Agent Symposium in Los Cabos was that Mexico is more than just sun and beach — just ask your friends, especially the hospitable locals you meet during your stay. This message, highlighted in two of Mexico tourism’s marketing initiatives — the Taxi Project campaign, which features real videos of U.S. tourists gushing about their Mexico trips while en route to the airport — and “Mexico, The Place You Thought You Knew,” beautifully shot segments that highlight the range of experiences possible in Mexico. The panel, Tailoring the Mexico Experience, was geared to agents who are thinking more broadly about the destination.

Great strategies were discussed for managing client expectations regarding safety and avoiding pesky time share salespeople at the airport, but the expert agents, some of whom sell upwards of 60 percent of their bookings to Mexico, already knew how to handle these issues with poise. To calm clients worried about safety, remind them of the hard facts — the high number of annual visitors, the fact that violence is between cartels and not against civilians and tourists, the actual location of violence and the vastness of the country — and don’t forget the power of firsthand testimonials by real people, available from Mexico Tourism, the social media pages of suppliers and the convention and visitors bureau and, hopefully, you, the travel professional. The panel ensured that everything agents wanted to create — truly special trips to Mexico, from faith-based fellowship travel to off-the-beaten-path cultural adventures — was possible. Here are some of the highlights:

What is the range of trips that is possible in Mexico?
Think of Mexico broadly, and you will have a lot more to offer your client than just sun and beaches. We have a huge variety of offerings. There’s a Mexico for everybody. You might have clients that just want to lie down on the beach or you might have clients that want to travel to small towns and mingle with the population. We have a program called Magical Towns — Pueblos Magicos — and the towns go through a very strict certification. We have 54 Magical Towns. There’s a Mexico for anything that you want.

For clients who are interested in adventure travel, Mexico has over 40,000 archeological sites — you shouldn’t think of Chichin Itza and that’s it; you might have clients who want to go someplace off the beaten path.

Look at it from all aspects. Where do my clients go to play golf? Just here in Los Cabos, there are three of the top 50 golf courses in the world. On the other side, in the Cancun area, there are around 12 PGA golf courses.

For Mundo Maya, there are flights from the U.S. to Campeche, Merida, Tuxtla Gutierrez and Villahermosa. It’s very simple from Houston — two hours away, and they’re in the Maya world. In Guadalajara, which you have flights to from all over, you have the Tequila Express. You take a train, such as the one operated by Orient Express, which takes visitors to all the haciendas where they make the tequila. There are hotels that are old haciendas where visitors can stay. It’s kind of like the wine country — visitors do the same thing in the tequila country. Then clients can jump to Puerto Vallarta. The key thing to remember is that Mexico has a lot more to offer than just sun and beach.
-- Gerardo Llanes, chief marketing officer, Mexico Tourism Board

What makes Mazatlan a unique destination?
Have you ever thought of a colonial city on the beach? Mazatlan is the only colonial city on the beach. It makes us different. It has a lot of influence from the 1800s and 1900s and there is a lot of French, Spanish and German influences. You can do a lot of tours while you enjoy the beach, such as up to Copala, a mining town within an hour-and-a-half drive from Mazatlan where visitors can experience the life of Mexico of 100 years ago. In the old part of the town, we will have a straight way to go from the cruise terminal to downtown Mazatlan. The cruise ships are following everything we are doing and have made their decision to come back.

Hopefully, by the end of this year, there will be a new highway that goes from Mazatlan to Texas. The economy of the destination will improve.
-- Jose R. Gamez, director of national sales, Pueblo Bonito

Copper Canyon is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona and it is four hours from Mazatlan via train.
-- Gerardo Llanes, chief marketing officer, Mexico Tourism Board

Planning off-the-beaten path trips is still challenging — what is Mexico doing to make these bookings easier?
You’re absolutely right, and we’re working on it. For the first time ever, Tianguis Turistico, Mexico’s tourism tradeshow, was held in Puerto Vallarta. Our secretary of tourism wants to grow tourism in other parts of Mexico, and decided to change the location every year. Next year, it will be in Puebla for that purpose. Puebla is a colonial-type city, and having Tianguis there will showcase the cultural parts of Mexico — not just the beach and sun — while also building up infrastructure around Puebla. Cancun has grown because of the demand, but as time goes by and Tianguis moves around the country, those cities that don’t get as much attention and infrastructure — the ones that are not as easy to book — will begin to improve in ways to cater to your clients and yourselves.
-- Alejandro De La Garza, director of international sales at El Cid Resorts

Is choosing accommodations for clients a big part of the tailoring process?
Every hotel has something special and each is trying their best to be unique. It’s up to the professionals to make the perfect match. Mexico has something for everyone. Focus on your clients; get to know them face to face and know their needs.
-- Ramon Ascencio, sales manager, Hotel Finisterra

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