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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

MEXICO - World tourism hot spot

Secretary Gloria Guevara Manzo elaborates on the achievements made and the actions Mexico is taking on tourism matters

Mexico has the wherewithal, infrastructure and natural resources to attract a lot of tourism. Gloria Guevara, the Secretary of Tourism has stated that within eight years, the country will double its tourism rates, which will effectively put Mexico on the list of the most visited countries in he world.

President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, during the second half of his tenure, gave the tourism sector a much-needed prod. He put politics aside, fired Rodolfo Elizondo and hired an expert in tourism that had no political background, but a lot of experience in the tourism sector and the resolve, vision and drive to work for the development of the country. We are talking about Gloria Guevara Manzo, a woman that has always strived to improve herself and others, which is the main reason the President himself hired her.

She is most definitely a busy woman, but she managed to squeeze us into her schedule and give CAMBIO the chance to interview her regarding all things tourism-related. This interview will allow our readers to get to know the woman a little better and learn from her experience and her personal vision of being a public servant.

THE YEAR OF TOURISM

The main discussion was, without question, the Year of Tourism in Mexico, which was recently announced by President Calderón. Regarding this, the functionary gave us an ample explanation of what this initiative means. “The Year of Tourism in Mexico is one of the greatest strategies of President Calderón. We began the implementation of this program in 2010, because Mexico has great options to offer for tourism. The sector accounts for 9 percent of the country’s GDP and creates nearly 7.5 million jobs, both directly and indirectly, and it is also the third most important industry in the country,” she noted.

“However, if we compare ourselves to another tourism economy like Spain, a country that is smaller than Mexico, and if we consider its tourism options, geographical position and other important aspects, we can corroborate that for them, tourism represents 12 percent of their GDP and it is their first source of income. This means that Mexico has even better opportunities to improve the tourism industry and create millions of jobs, which will ultimately boost our country’s economy,” she added.

She said that the aim of the Year of Tourism in Mexico is to create a comprehensive project that will strengthen the industry. The program is part of a strategic plan that will include special activities and events in 2011, which will further develop the sector. “The President, tourism representatives, governors, legislators, investors and the Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization have already signed an agreement. The objective of said agreement is to implement several programs and make a commitment with the private sector, functionaries and legislators to make sure that everyone participates in making our country a better place,” she said.

DIVERSIFICATION OF OBJECTIVES

“The Year of Tourism in Mexico is not all about just signing an agreement. It is so much more. This will be the buttress to create a series of tourism-promotion projects that are completely different from our traditional methods. Between February and April, the Health Secretariat will create a Medical Tourism project. And that is not the end of it, we want to encourage adventure tourism, because this year Mexico will host the World Adventure Tourism Summit in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. More than 600 international tourism operators will come to our country to bear witness to its cultural and natural richness,” she said.

“We also have many cultural projects, after all, 2011 is a year we will dedicate to the gastronomical richness of our country, and make the most of the fact that it has been declared an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. All in all, the Year of Tourism in Mexico is all about laying the foundations to build a strong tourism sector,” she noted.

Are there any specific goals to evaluate tourism promotion in the Year of Tourism in Mexico?

Most certainly. We’ve set a series of goals that we want to achieve regarding revenue, arrivals and the amount of national and foreign visitors. Nevertheless, we also have long-term goals, which will be achieved over a period of eight years. During this period of time, we think that Mexico will be able to make it to the list of the five most visited countries in World. Currently, were are No. 10 in most visited countries and No. 19 regarding economic spillover. Our goal eight years from now is to be No. 5 on both lists. But in order to do that, we need a continuous growth of 15 percent in the tourism sector annually. In 2010 we had 22.6 million visitors, but by 2018 we want 50 million. True, it’s more than double so we need continuous growth to that, but we’ll deliver.

There is this perception that Mexico is a violent country, and public opinion seems to fuel this perception. How has this affected the tourism industry?

Well, we do have an important challenge, and we cannot ignore it any longer. We are aware that Mexico is going through a harsh situation, but insecurity is an evil that has affected every single country. You can see these situations everywhere, and both tourists and the local population are affected. There are countries like Egypt that depend a lot on tourism, and we already know how things are going there. Another example is Russia that has suffered a lot due to the events of the past few weeks. Regardless, we can see things from another point of view: we need to analyze the implications of insecurity for the tourism industry, but we also need to have numbers. The Tourism Secretariat only releases information on the number of people that enter the country, and through that we can make studies. The Tourism Secretariat gets its information from the Bank of Mexico (Banxico) and the National Migration Institute (INMI), and according to the data, in 2010 we saw an increase of 15 percent in visitors to Mexico by air. This data is very important because 2010 was a year where insecurity rose dramatically. During the past year, 9.9 million people came by air, while in 2009, only 8.6 million people did so, and in 2008 we had 9.4 million. That means that the country has experienced a sustained growth.

ALERTS

Several countries in the world have warned their citizens not to visit certain countries. That is troublesome, and the World Tourism Organization has stated that there will be some criteria and standards to be followed when issuing a warning. Nonetheless, the tourism sector has not suffered direly. Gloria Guevara reminds us that the United States issued a warning in 2010, urging citizens not to visit Europe due to terrorism. “A Mexican delegation attended the World Travel Market Summit in Europe and the thing was packed with US citizens,” she said.

Regarding Mexico, she noted. the situation is the same. “In 2008, 5.8 million US citizens visited us by air, in 2009 we had 5.3 million, and in 2010 we had 5.9 million. What does this mean? Well, it means that we had an increase of 10 percent compared to last year and almost two percent compared to 2008. We did all this in spite of the alerts. We also see lot of Canadian tourists. In 2001, 1.1 million Canadian citizens visited us by air, while in 2009 we had 1.2 million and in 2010 almost 1.5 million, which means an increase of 20 percent compared to last year and 29 percent compared to 2008. The US and Canada account for 74 percent of the total of tourists that visit Mexico, but we did see that other countries visit us as well. For instance, we saw an increase of 15 percent in British tourists, 33 percent in Spaniards, 34 percent in Argentinians, 16 in German, 23 in Italian and 73 percent in Brazilians. Every single nationality is visiting us more, except for Cubans, due to the connectivity problems we’ve been having with the Mexicana situation. In the end, in spite of the challenges we’re facing in security matters, there are more foreigners visiting our country,” she noted.

What is the reality Mexico is facing with other countries regarding security?

Well, we have to put things into context. When people overseas talk about Mexico, they usually refer to Cancun, but generally speaking, people talk about the entire country. The same thing happens with Colombia, people talk about the entire nation, it’s rare to refer to Bogotá, Medellín or Cartagena. We can also say the same about Brazil, we talk about a whole. However, when we talk about the US, we do mention specific places, including Washington, Arizona, Las Vegas and others. We must mention, though that, in spite of the period of turmoil of sorts the country is currently experiencing, many of our tourism hot spots are safer than most tourist areas in the world. People don’t really talk about that, but it’s true. Yucatán is a perfect example. The state is really safe, far better than security rates in some European countries. Campeche is another case, Chiapas as well. I insist, this is a difficult challenge that we must face, but if we compare our country with several island nations in the Caribbean or other Latin-American countries, our security standards are way above them. We’ve seen, unfortunately, that countries that did not know much about us in the past, now think of us as a nation of violence and insecurity, so we must make sure that we tell people that Mexico is much better. We must tell them that our reality is different from what they think it is.

How is Mexico supposed to react to the alerts issued by several countries?

We must tell the people how well Mexico really is doing. We are a big country, and we take that for granted, but few people know that we are the 14th economy of the world that has a huge area, so it’s important to put things into perspective. President Calderón has urged us to stay united and say good things about Mexico. We cannot ignore the situation we’re currently living in, but it is important to tell the people about the positive things. In 2010, 22 million people visited us, and nothing amiss happened to them. They all had the time of their lives, so much so, that many of them choose to stay here, forever. The bad thing is that no one informs the public about that. Many Mexicans think that the reality is extremely harsh, but it’s not. People in several states can walk around in the middle of the night and visit tourism hot spots without any worries.