Adventure travel is one-of the fastest growing tourism sectors in
Mexico, with the number of tour companies specializing in active
vacations increasing about 15 percent annually.
Approximately 450 companies across the country now offer scuba
diving, whale watching, hiking, mountain biking and other
sporting-oriented tours to an increasing number of active
The developments in Mexico highlight the growing efforts of
destinations around the globe to cater to the increasing number of
travelers seeking more adventurous or ecological tours.
Efforts in Mexico, as well as elsewhere, offer agents a
burgeoning variety of options to sell to this niche travel
Last year for the first time, federal and local government
agencies in Mexico invested $3.3 million in the development and
promotion of ecotourism and adventure travel. Six national
government organizations also began coordinating professional
standards for adventure tourism businesses.
More than 49 workshops were held in 19 states to train local
guides, and several areas around the country were targeted for
“We’ve just started this effort,” Secretary of Tourism Leticia
Navarro Ochoa said last month at the Ecotourism Forum held at
Mexico City’s World Trade Center. “We are creating the image of
Mexico as an ecotourism destination.”
The forum, held in conjunction with Mexico’s fifth annual
Ecotourism Expo, brought together federal and state tourism
representatives, private-sector tour operators and tourism
How to reach North American tourists and agents is a key
“Until last year, few people outside the country knew about
adventure and ecotourism travel in Mexico,” said Rodolfo Olmedo,
the president of AMTAVE, the Mexican Association of Adventure Tour
“We know that travelers will not come if they don’t know what is
available in Mexico,” Olmedo said. “This is our biggest
Certain adventures and sports already are well-established in
Mexico and are a part of traditional vacation itineraries.
Visitors to Cancun and Cozumel snorkel or scuba dive in the
clear Caribbean Sea. Migrating gray whales attract naturalists to
Baja California’s lagoons.
When Olmedo started seeing demand grow for adventure tourism in
the early 1990s he established Ecco Sports, now one of the largest
companies offering rafting trips on the rivers of Veracruz.
Around the same time, Kenneth Johnson began offering hiking and
biking tours around Cancun with his company, Eco Colors.
In 1994, Olmedo, Johnson and a few other operators organized
AMTAVE. Adventure/ecotourism is continuing to grow so much that the
organization now has 55 members offering mountain biking trips
along trails in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca, mountain climbing
expeditions up Pico de Orizaba, and rock climbing in the Copper
Many tours now combine culture and adventure in natural
“Archeological sites are beautiful, but if you add natural
adventures they are absolutely wonderful,” says archeologist
Yolanda Ruanova, whose company EcoAventuras offers camping trips to
remote archeological sites in Chiapas.
These types of tours have become immensely popular with national
and foreign tourists, especially at resort destinations.
Johnson says the bulk of his clients come from the U.S.,
everywhere from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Many incorporate a few
adventures in their Cancun vacations, while others visit the region
specifically for biking and camping tours.
Barbara MacKinnon works with birdwatching tours in Yucatan, and
receives many clients through Elderhostel and established
But many companies offering trips in less familiar areas are
small and have little marketing money to reach agents.
AMTAVE operates a Web site with links to its members and acts as
a referral service for potential clients.
Still, the organization and most of its members does not have
international toll-free numbers or English-speaking operators.
Most also do not accept credit card deposits and ask clients to
wire payments directly to banks.
These operators can offer up to 20 percent commission to foreign
travel agents. Enter San Diego based Outdoor Travel Adventures,
which recently established marketing relationships with AMTAVE and
several adventure tour operators in Mexico.
“There’s really no way for the average consumer looking on the
Internet to differentiate between good and bad companies,” says
OTA’s president Roseann Iovine. “We spend a lot of time researching
OTA books tours for many AMTAVE members and other Mexican
adventure tour operators.
The company offers between 8 and 12 percent commission to travel
agents and handles all arrangements, including deposits.
“We find that agents who have clients that are
adventure-oriented are happy to book those tours through us,”
Iovine says. “They know their clients are going to get a quality