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The election of a new president can change any nation’s approach to tourism. So, what does the arrival of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — who took office on Dec. 1 — mean for Mexico’s tourism industry?
Pablo Azcárraga, president of the Consejo Nacional Empresarial Turistico (CNET) and president of Grupo Posadas, predicts a learning curve that comes with any change in administration, with ultimately positive results.
“Eventually, Mexico will find its correct positioning, because of the enormity of what tourism represents for the nation’s economy,” he said. “What I’ve heard and what I understand, in terms of what the new administration plans to do, is that they will work to increase the average spending of travelers. This is easier said than done, but I think they will look for a series of actions to move in that direction.”
Azcárraga adds that lesser-visited Mexican destinations may find a greater profile on the tourism front.
“They plan to change the enormous dependency that international tourism has on five destinations, so that destinations with little penetration can increase their market share,” he said.
To achieve that, Azcárraga says he expects to see new tourism products that include more experiences beyond the traditional “sun and sand” vacation, as well as marketing efforts to grow the number of Mexican-Americans who visit Mexico for cultural, family and leisure travel experiences.
What we have heard in [the president’s] tourism-related campaign speeches is that his main focus is the well-being of everyone who works in the tourism industry, which is a very important job generator.
Dario Flota Ocampo, director of the Quintana Roo Tourism Board, also expects good things from the administration — including for those who work in the industry.
“What we have heard in [the president’s] tourism-related campaign speeches is that his main focus is the well-being of everyone who works in the tourism industry, which is a very important job generator,” he said. “I think that he will work to ensure the job conditions of these stakeholders. This means that we will be seeing cities with a big touristic concentration having better public services, housing and public transportation. As a result, employees will improve the quality of the service they offer our visitors.”
New Projects, Old ChallengesAmong the biggest new projects to come with the new administration is the so-called “Maya train,” a proposed rail service that would connect Cancun with Tulum and other towns on the Yucatan peninsula.
The Maya train is a good initiative that will result in development opportunities for every state where the train will pass, says Flota Ocampo.
“Initially during its construction, it will generate a large number of jobs,” he said, “Once the train is running, it will serve, at least in the Cancun-Tulum area, as a great solution to the transportation problem that thousands of workers in the tourism industry face — many have to travel every day to the tourist corridor of Cancun-Tulum. It’s also an opportunity for travelers to transfer more easily from the airport to their hotels and from the south of the state. This will result in more tourist arrivals to these areas, who we hope will come visit the destination and use the train.”
Azcárraga, however, is not yet sold on the proposed train.
“If the investment to build the train will take away resources that could be used for other types of investment in tourism infrastructure, we’d need to know at what cost, and then analyze what would be best for the nation,” he said. “I think it’s more important to invest in airports, in highways and in ports than to invest in a train.”
Even as plans for the Maya train continue, another major project — the construction of a brand-new airport to serve Mexico City, which had already started — has stalled, as a majority of voters voted down the project in a recent referendum. The halting of the new construction was a bad decision, according to Azcárraga.
“We are still in the process of rectifying the problem,” he said. “We’re proposing the privatization of the airport, which would free government resources from the investment in the construction of the new airport.”
Flota Ocampo says that more input is needed regarding the new Mexico City airport, which would greatly increase the passenger capacity in Mexico’s largest metropolis and allow for more connections around the country.
“I think it’s important to know the airlines’ opinion, because they are the main stakeholders in this topic,” he said. “We need their feedback on where a better place for the new Mexico City airport would be. Once we know their point of view, we can truly understand and evaluate how the airlines will be affected and how this can help increase their operations.”
The overall goals are clear for Mexico as it moves forward, according to Flota Ocampo.
“The biggest challenges will be to increase tourism; to strengthen the position Mexico already has in the list of the world’s most visited countries; to continue to attract the North American market; and to explore new emerging markets to continue the tourism growth and arrivals in Mexico,” he said.