President Felipe Calderon (left) and Peter Greenberg at the first-ever Americas Summit // © 2012 World Travel & Tourism Council
The guest list was indeed impressive: Robert Redford, Mexico president Felipe Calderon and Carlos Slim, who is, by some accounts, the world’s richest man. But the topic of tourism was the real focus at the first-ever Americas Summit, organized by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which took place May 16-18 at the Grand Velas Resort in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
According to Toby Nicol, a spokesperson for the WTTC, the timing of the gathering — which attracted nearly 900 delegates from around the Americas as well as Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East — was designed to provide a private-sector balance to the T20 tourism summit, which drew tourism ministers from the G20 countries to Merida just days before.
“President Felipe Calderon is particularly keen to demonstrate to other world leaders how travel and tourism can be used to generate growth, jobs and prosperity at a national level,” Nicol said. “Mexico had long arranged for the tourism ministers from the G20 countries — referred to as the T20 — to meet in May in Merida in order to deliver a compelling message on the value of travel and tourism to the President. It seemed appropriate to add the private sector perspective to that message — hence the placing of the Americas Summit immediately after the T20 meeting.”
Among the issues that arose repeatedly during the two days of sessions and speeches at Grand Velas, the visa process was one of the most discussed.
Citing 2010 figures from a U.S. Travel Association (USTA) study, Roger Dow, president and CEO of USTA, spoke to delegates about “the lost decade,” the years following 9/11, during which he said an increasingly difficult visa process was largely responsible for the U.S. losing 78 million overseas arrivals, $606 billion in total spending and 470,000 jobs.
“Research issued on the opening day of the Americas Summit demonstrated that more than five million jobs could be created in G20 countries alone if more progressive visa policies were adopted,” said Nicol.
Limiting government regulation of the travel and tourism industries was also important to many of the private-sector attendees, including Jeff Poole, director of government and industry affairs at the International Air Transport Association.
“We need governments to get out of the way with overtaxing and over-regulating,” Poole told delegates during a session about open skies, a concept that liberalizes rules and regulations in the airline industry.
The Benefits of Hosting
The Americas Summit is one of a string of international events that Mexico is hosting over the course of just a few months; additional confabs include the T20 Summit (which took place in May in Merida), the Adventure Travel World Summit (which took place in October 2011 in Chiapas) and the upcoming G20 Summit in Los Cabos (slated for June 18-19).
“Tourism is critically important for Mexico, and this is something that President Calderon has recognized,” Lopez said. “If you want to play in the bigger leagues, you’ve got to try to host these high-profile events.”
During the Americas Summit, delegates frequently praised President Calderon’s support of the tourism sector (he even joined CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg last year to co-host a program called “The Royal Tour,” during which they visited several of Mexico’s top tourism sites). But this is a Presidential election year in Mexico, and Calderon is on his way out. Will the next president provide the same level of support?
The answer should be affirmative, according to Lopez. He explained that, thanks to the many issues raised at the Americas Summit, the forum can serve as a mechanism “to send the message to the [Presidential] candidates about the importance of tourism, to make sure whoever takes over will continue the initiatives and make them even better.”