Alfonso Sumano, regional director for the Mexico Tourism Board // © 2011 Mexico Tourism Board
Mexico tourism is in a puzzling situation: for all the bad press the country’s been getting, you’d think the destination’s visitation numbers would be in the basement. Instead, Mexico is seeing an increase in visitors. TravelAge West recently caught up with Alfonso Sumano, regional director for the Mexico Tourism Board, who shared upcoming tourism initiatives and his insights on why the country continues to remain popular with American travelers.
Visitation numbers to Mexico are robust, and tourism numbers for 2010 were up 6 percent. Given the bad publicity concerning border violence, what accounts for this rise?
Sumano: We offer good value in Mexico, which is reflected in our numbers. What you get for what you spend is very good. Our legendary hospitality is also a plus. We’re facing a challenge, especially with new visitors, but Mexico benefits from travelers who return home and give the destination a glowing report. Our repeat clients know that there is trouble in specific pockets of the country. However, Mexico is a huge country — only 5 percent of its territory is experiencing violence.
Is the spending per visitor holding strong, or is it taking a dip?
Sumano: Tourism spending is not doing that well, because of the down economy in the U.S. and the strength of the peso. It’s 11 percent down compared to 2008, which was our best year.
What advice do you have for travelers considering driving across the border into Mexico?
Sumano: I would suggest that they use their common sense and be well-informed before setting out. Stick to the official travel information from the U.S. government and follow the recommendations.
Is the U.S. still considered the major market for Mexico?
Sumano: It’s a very important market for us. The U.S. accounts for 60 percent of our visitors, while Canada accounts for 15 percent. Combined, the North American market accounts for 75 percent of our visitors.
What international markets are showing growth for Mexico?
Sumano: In the three months of 2011, compared to the same period in 2010, we’ve seen Brazil grow an astounding 100 percent; Russia grew 73.4 percent and Argentina grew 18 percent. The strength of the Brazilian economy accounts in part for this jump in visitation, as well as good connectivity. But I also think we have a cultural link with Brazil — the rhythm of our music, our cuisine and our mutual love of soccer. When Mexico is eliminated from the World Cup, we root for Brazil to win.
Are there new resort destinations being developed in Mexico, along the lines of a Cancun or Punta Mita?
Sumano: There are several projects in development. Teacapan is a new project in the state of Sinaloa. It lies 60 miles south of Mazatlan and will be served by the Mazatlan International Airport. It will comprise 6,000 acres, with about half of this area for sale to investors. It will have more than seven miles of beachfront and 13,000 hotel rooms. El Capomo is being developed in the state of Nayarit, about 42 miles from Punta Mita. It will have 5,000 hotel and condo units, about five miles of beachfront and comprise 630 acres, of which 360 will be for sale. El Capomo will be served by the Puerto Vallarta International Airport. Marina Cozumel is another high-end development with 600 hotel rooms and 333 slips for boats.
Will Mexico be promoting medical tourism beyond the border areas?
Sumano: This will be a growing market for us. We’ll be expanding medical tourism to other areas, such as Hermosillo and Mexico City. Cancun and the Riviera Maya will be expanding specific programs in such areas as dentistry, cosmetic procedures, orthopedics, cardiology and holistic healing.
I know of a journalist based in Florida who ran into a cardiac problem while traveling in Mexico. He was successfully treated at a cost of $20,000. On his return to the Miami area he took the receipts to be evaluated, and it was determined that the same procedures would have cost 10 times as much in the U.S.
Can you elaborate on the reasons why Mexico’s annual travel convention, Tianguis Turistico, will no longer take place in Acapulco?
Sumano: It’s true that over past years there have been efforts to move Tianguis to another destination within the country. We wish to expose more destinations within Mexico to visitors attending Tianguis, although the decision to move Tianguis does not mean we’re not supporting Acapulco in any way we can. The government has allocated an investment of $20 million to improve Acapulco’s tourism product, with much of this going to improve the port.
Presently, there are 18 destinations within the country participating in the bidding process to host Tianguis, including Mexico City, Cancun/Riviera Maya, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara.
How can travel agents keep well-informed about Mexico tourism?
Sumano: We have five regional offices in the U.S. — I suggest you keep in touch with your regional office. For example, in LA, you could contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, I suggest that agents visit our official training site, MagicofMexico.com. It’s a very practical website where agents can find PDFs to email or print and mail to clients, as well as info on fam trips.