Mexico Faces Challenges and Opportunities Following Shuttering of Its Tourism Board

With the Mexico Tourism Board out of commission, suppliers and tourism officials are searching for new ways to build business

There’s no way around it: The shuttering of the Mexico Tourism Board earlier this year has changed how the destination is marketed and sold. And, like it or not, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s decision to cut funding for the national tourism organization has created a new world of challenges — and opportunities — for Mexico’s tourism industry.

Now, industry professionals — from hoteliers and tour operators to local tourism organizations and travel advisors — are adjusting to a new normal as they devise fresh strategies and partnerships to assure growth.

The dissolution of the Mexico Tourism Board has brought a bevy of concerns to the forefront.

“Mexico has very strong tourist destinations; therefore, we will do anything that’s necessary in order to make things work,” said Julio Birrueta, director of the Mazatlan Tourism Board. “It’s just a matter of thinking differently now, changing the approach and having the individual tourist destinations commit to a countrywide strategy in addition to each destination’s plan.”

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Miguel Torruco Marques, Mexico’s secretary of tourism, is pictured center at the 44th edition of Tianguis Turistico, Mexico’s annual tourism conference. © 2019 Mexico Secretary of Tourism

Miguel Torruco Marques, Mexico’s secretary of tourism, is pictured center at the 44th edition of Tianguis Turistico, Mexico’s annual tourism conference. © 2019 Mexico Secretary of Tourism

According to Oscar Morales, director of national and international tourism promotion for the state of Jalisco, the two biggest setbacks from the national tourism board’s disbanding are the loss of economic support for co-op promotional efforts — including advertising and trade show participation — and reduced oversight of the Pueblos Magicos program, which promotes tourism to more than 100 smaller Mexican towns.

“We have seen a decrease in the visitor numbers to our state,” Morales said. “Eliminating the co-op programs that the destinations used to have with tour operators is something that directly affects us. Passenger numbers have decreased, and tour operators are seeing increased investment from destinations in the Caribbean.”

Suzanne Hall, senior director of supplier relations, land and hotels for Ensemble Travel Group, agrees that Mexico may be losing business to other countries.

“We’re seeing the impact through our preferred supplier sales,” she said. “They’re diverting; so instead of Mexico, there are other destinations that are benefiting. We’re seeing overall that sales are down to Mexico, and the money is going to the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, for example.”

The ability of smaller and lesser-known destinations within Mexico to market themselves is a concern for Hope Smith, a travel advisor at Born to Travel, a Virtuoso agency affiliated with Montecito Village Travel in Sierra Madre, Calif.

“Now, you have to depend on the local tourism boards of each state in Mexico — but not everybody is going to know who they are, or even which destinations have them,” Smith said. “Take a place like Chiapas or Oaxaca, for example. Neither had much money to begin with. Now, how are they going to get the word out?”

Dario Flota Ocampo, director of the Quintana Roo Tourism Board, says larger destinations need to up their efforts to stay on the radar, too.

“Our participation at international trade shows has been affected,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, Madrid was the last fair we did that was hosted by the Mexico Tourism Board. For the next fairs in Bogota, Colombia, and Berlin, we had to coordinate and develop our own pavilions, and the cost has multiplied. Participating in the events we had planned now costs us five or six times more than what it did before.”

In addition, newer advisors may need to work harder to educate themselves about Mexico, according to Nick Hammond, vice president of groups for Exquisite Travel Group, an Ensemble agency in Roseville, Calif.

“The biggest issue will be for newer agents coming in who won’t have the Mexico Tourism Board as a resource,” he said. “The board sponsored a lot of fam trips that got us into the destinations and face-to-face with hoteliers. Someone’s going to have to pick up the ball.”

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“Mexico has very strong tourist destinations; therefore, we will do anything that’s necessary in order to make things work. It’s just a matter of thinking differently now, changing the approach and having the individual tourist destinations commit to a countrywide strategy in addition to each destination’s plan.”

Julio Birrueta, director of the Mazatlan Tourism Board

Positive Steps


Every challenge, of course, has an upside. And several destinations and suppliers are already focusing on the best ways to move forward.

“What I see is an opportunity for all the players to review and to further evolve their marketing strategy,” said Teresa Villareal, senior vice president, head of tourism practice for Newlink, a public relations agency that formerly represented the Mexico Tourism Board. “Tourism boards in different destinations are stepping up to the plate even more. They’re doing strategic alliances with destinations that used to be competitors. They’re putting together resources from different places.”

Indeed, a new wave of creativity is flowing through the region. Los Cabos, for example, recently launched FIPROTUR, a private trust fund designed to complement the efforts of the Los Cabos Tourism Board.

The new organization aims to replace some of the funding lost from the Mexico Tourism Board by charging businesses a membership fee. Benefits include participation in trade shows and road shows, as well as access to a new Los Cabos tourism office that will open in Los Angeles this year.

“We see this as a big opportunity, because we are creating a trust just with private contributions,” said Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. “Our partners want to contribute; they want Los Cabos to move forward.”

Esponda says there has been no gap in the destination’s promotional campaign or budget thanks to recent efforts. The main difference that advisors and the traveling public might notice, he says, is that “they’ll see Los Cabos has much more of a presence. We have a very strong co-op program with Virtuoso and Signature Travel Network, and we are enlarging our investment with more agent training.”

The San Miguel de Allende Tourism Board is also devising new promotional efforts. It has begun collaborating with Mexican consulates in key source markets to promote the destination through special events and exhibits.

“Since we found out that all government-funded tourism promotion would be disappearing, we decided to follow a strategy to go directly to the consulates,” said Edgar Aguado, who this year took on the role of director for the San Miguel de Allende Tourism Board.

The promotional program started with the consulate in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is also targeting destinations that include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and New York City.

The Riviera Nayarit is another locale putting a positive spin on recent changes, according to Marc Murphy, managing director of the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“This has created an opportunity for us to reevaluate our marketing strategy, redefine our targets, update our promotional efforts, and reenvision our role moving forward,” he said. “For example, while the Mexico Tourism Board was very restrictive with new platforms such as specific social media tactics or below-the-line campaign activations as part of the cooperative agreements, now they can be executed by the tour operators and/or the tourism boards in full support.”

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Mazatlan is located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. © 2019 Mazatlan Tourism Board

Cancun remains a top destination for leisure and business travel. © 2019 Quintana Roo

Mexico City's Floating Gardens of Xochimilco © 2019 Mexico Tourism Board

Mazatlan is located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. © 2019 Mazatlan Tourism Board

Cancun remains a top destination for leisure and business travel. © 2019 Quintana Roo

Mexico City's Floating Gardens of Xochimilco © 2019 Mexico Tourism Board


Finding Funding


Creative approaches to fundraising can produce positive results, Mazatlan’s Birrueta notes.

“In addition to requesting more contributions from hotels, we are inviting other tourism-related companies to participate — DMCs, car rentals, restaurants and more,” he said.

Birrueta says that Mazatlan’s local government has increased its contributions to tourismpromotion to target productive and measurable activities, such as flight increases from current and new destinations.

“Our goal was to maintain the current visitation,” he said. “But after Tianguis, Mexico’s annual tourism conference in April, we were able to predict an increase for the upcoming winter season.”

Mexico’s private sector has also rejiggered its approach to promotion, according to Pascal Dupuis, general manager of Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera.

“Our goal is to establish a cohesive and unified statement regarding Mayakoba as a destination, to compensate for the lack of promotion the Mexico Tourism Board had given to the state of Quintana Roo,” he said, noting that his property has increased its spending on digital platforms, strengthened its ties with national and international media, and expanded its relationship with emerging markets such as Russia.

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Mexico's government plans to invest a total of $26 million into Acapulco in 2019 and another $26 million in 2020. © 2019 Acapulco Convention and Visitors Bureau

Mexico's government plans to invest a total of $26 million into Acapulco in 2019 and another $26 million in 2020. © 2019 Acapulco Convention and Visitors Bureau

Working Together


Nearly every destination official interviewed for this story stressed the importance of teamwork to move Mexico ahead. The state of Jalisco, for example, has joined with four other destinations — the states of Guanajuato, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi, as well as Mexico City — to promote the central region to the European market.

“For the U.S. and Canadian markets, we’re working with the Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta tourism offices in order to start promotions as a whole group, as a state,” Jalisco’s Morales said.

As for the Riviera Nayarit, Murphy says that strategic alliances — especially with nearby Puerto Vallarta — are crucial for growth.

“We also had strategic meetings at Tianguis with the tourism board directors of Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta, and we came to an agreement to start collaborating in California,” he said. “In fact, all our sales and promotions teams are planning the first joint-destinations agent event there.”

Acapulco has also expanded its approach to finding new resources, according to Pedro Haces Sordo, president of the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office.

“Due to the disappearance of the Mexico Tourism Board, our promotional budget has been significantly reduced,” he said. “That has obliged us to launch bilateral campaigns with commercial partners, instead of trilateral campaigns — and only in primary markets such as Texas, Chicago and California.”

To counter that, Haces Sordo says his organization is working with new business partners as well as with tourism entities.

“We’ve united forces with other Mexican states and destinations to continue having a large presence as a nation,” he said. “The current situation obliges us to be more efficient, effective and creative in planning our strategies.”

Ocampo says that Quintana Roo is also looking to its neighbors, as well as to the private sector.

“The alliances we have forged are bilateral with some airlines and tour operators to keep our presence in key markets in Latin America, North America and Europe,” he said. “We also have new alliances with other domestic destinations — which include Campeche and Yucatan — where we promote the areas in a program called Yucatan Peninsula. The target is mostly the European market, because their average stay is a week, which allows them to visit the three states.”

The ability of Mexico’s tourism regions to work together is proof of their resilience, according to Tom Brussow, president of YesToMexico, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that launched in November 2018 to educate the public and the industry about safety and security in Mexico.

“From regional tourism boards and tour operators to large resort brands and boutique hotels, we are working together with these groups to specifically fight fear-mongering and misinformation, which are contaminating consideration among U.S. travelers,” Brussow said. “This is an example of a new initiative that has seen greater momentum, likely in part due to the closure of the Mexico Tourism Board.”

Even with the new challenges, Brussow is optimistic about the future.

“You cannot simply cut millions of dollars allocated toward international marketing and not expect there to be an impact,” he said. “However, given the resiliency and ingenuity of the companies and individuals who are leading the industry, I don’t think people will just close up shop and accept defeat. There is no reason to believe this will not be something that Mexico can bounce back from. From the perspective of the consumer, Mexico has a very compelling product to offer. And that, surely, has not changed.”

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