Panelists discussed the challenge of selling Mexico during the “Toolkit: Selling Mexico as a Destination” breakout session. // © 2017 Emma Weissmann
Feature image (above): ATTA’s latest regional AdventureNext event took place in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. // © 2017 Emma Weissmann
Delegates who attend regional AdventureNext conferences — hosted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) — are accustomed to traveling to far-flung, exotic locales.
Last May’s inaugural AdventureNext event, for example, took place in Ohrid, Macedonia. And next May’s AdventureNext Near East conference will be on the shores of Dead Sea in Amman, Jordan.
But the ATTA’s most recent AdventureNext event, which ran from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, took place in a destination that’s closer to home —and often overlooked — for many of the attendees who specialize in adventure travel: Mexico. More specifically, the inland Mexican state of San Luis Potosi (SLP).
Although not commonly thought of as a top Mexican tourist destination, SLP — with its many lagoons, limestone caves and mountains — beckons divers, waterfall jumpers, hikers and more, and offers an array of adventure options for clients.
“Some people say SLP’s lack of beaches is a weakness,” said Shannon Stowell, ATTA president, during the event’s opening keynote address. “But I think it’s a strength. To say that a destination like this should suffer in tourism in both the marketing and the outcome because of a lack of beaches is just wrong.”
In fact, several attendees, which included local and international tour operators, travel advisors and international media, were able to experience the destination firsthand, thanks to a sampling of pre-and post-conference activities that included rafting in Tampaon River, canoeing to the largest waterfall in the state, scuba diving, rappelling and more.
And when they weren’t participating in excursions, the approximately 230 delegates attended one-on-one meetings, networked with fellow buyers and sellers and listened to small- and large-group keynote sessions from leading adventure travel industry insiders. SLP Governor Juan Manuel Carreras Lopez gave the conference’s opening remarks, and other tourism secretaries and bureau representatives from several Mexican regions, including Durango and Guanajuato, were present during one-on-one appointments to share their area’s offerings with media and buyers.
Many of the conference’s group discussions revolved around the challenges that operators within SLP — and all of Mexico — face when selling adventure travel to North American clients, despite its proximity to the U.S. and Canada.
In one session, “Toolkit: Selling Mexico as a Destination,” which was led by Zachary Rabinor, founder, president and CEO of Journey Mexico; John Baston, special operations for North America and Alaska for Mountain Travel Sobek; and Luis Vargas, president and chief brand officer for The Clymb, travel advisors and tour operators were asked to shout out some of the biggest challenges in selling Mexico.
Reasons included concerns about safety and security; a negative media perception; the idea that Mexico isn’t “exotic” enough; the image that the country is solely a sun-and-sand destination; and a lack of knowledge about available adventure travel options.
Yet Mexico ranks highly in the Travel Tourism Competitive Index, according to Stowell, and is a prime sell for clients interested in active activities, gastronomy, nature and culture, which are selling points when attracting the interest of adventure travelers.
“Every destination struggles with something,” Stowell said. “For Mexico, it’s transport, infrastructure and some of the realities and perceptions surrounding safety, security and sanitation. These are issues that can be focused on, and this is the opportunity for SLP to say, ‘We’re addressing these issues.’”