Tourism is Mexico’s third-largest source of revenue and foreign exchange. Its recent decline has greatly impacted the four million Mexicans employed by the industry. From the economic downturn to the Influenza A H1N1 outbreak, Mexico is still weathering a financial storm, but wants everyone to know it’s open for business.
“We are optimistic that out of this crisis will come a stronger Mexico, ready to welcome the millions of tourists that visit the country each year,” says Liliana Fernandez, Mexico Tourism Board liaison.
Mexico’s Minister of Tourism Rodolfo Elizondo estimates that the drop in foreign visitors due to the H1N1 virus could cost the country 250,000 jobs and as much as $4 billion in tourism income this year. This equals one third of the $13.3 billion in tourism revenue generated from last year’s 22.6 million visitors.
Despite the World Health Organization (WHO) raising the H1N1 level alert to phase 6 (global pandemic), the severity of the virus has not increased; the alert only signals that the virus is now present on all continents. And all advisories against traveling to Mexico have been lifted.
To further educate the public and allay fears, Mexico’s Ministry of Health is issuing virus-free destination certification to cities that have been virus-free 20 days after having been tested, the standard incubation period for the illness. Twenty-one Mexican cities, including Cancun and Cozumel, are now certified virus-free destinations.
“The WHO and various governments around the globe have acknowledged Mexico for the prompt and globally responsible way the country responded to control the influenza outbreak,” Fernandez says. “Mexico’s readiness is partially attributed to the country’s collaboration in emergency planning and pandemic scenario exercises with U.S. and Canada over the past five years.”
According to Fernandez, the Mexican government and private institutions in the tourism sector are working closely on a comprehensive reactivation plan for the industry, including the meetings and conventions segment. Part of the plan includes a national marketing campaign called “Vive Mexico” and an international campaign targeting U.S. and Canadian visitors called “Welcome Back” and “Reasons to Believe.” With 3,100 hotels and 250,000 sleeping rooms in Mexico, the country is counting on this vital revenue stream to revive their economy.
“The crisis created deals, and so coming to Mexico is affordable,” says Mexico Tourism Board Director of Strategic Business Unit Eduardo Chaillo, CMP, CMM. “We never want to promote our destination as cheap because the quality is there.”
Rooms in upscale Mexican resorts during non-peak season can be under $100 U.S. per night. Mexico also offers a value-added tax (VAT) incentive providing U.S. planners with 10 to 15 percent exemptions on meeting services.
“Mexico is ready to welcome back all of its visitors and offer them the hospitality and services that have always distinguished us,” Fernandez says.
While during the month of May hotels were mostly empty, the country is seeing an upswing in its occupancy and strong attendance at industry conferences targeting international meeting and event planners. Over 100 U.S. and Canadian planners participated in the annual Mexico Showcase and Travel Expo in Cancun at the beginning of May, and 85 U.S., Canadian and European planners attended Meeting Place Mexico in Puerto Vallarta at the beginning of June.
“As I received the international planners at the airport, I thanked them for supporting the Mexican economy and the tourism industry,” says Fernando Compeán, CMM, CITE of Meeting Place Mexico. “They told me they never would have thought of canceling.”
In fact, 93 percent of the May and June Mexico-based conferences that didn’t happen because of the H1N1 virus weren’t canceled, they were postponed and rescheduled.
“Meeting participants are attesting to the health of Mexico,” Compeán says. “They know we like to do business, but we like to do business with our hearts.”