Mexico Tourism on Upward Track, as Safety Concerns Wane
by Ana Figueroa

Suppliers, agents and tourism officials are reporting positive trends for travel to Mexico. In fact, some resorts and tour operators experienced record-breaking sales for the first quarter of 2013.

Travel professionals are giving credit to waning concerns about safety and security, along with unusually cold weather in parts of the U.S. and Canada.

“Safety fears have been on the decline for a while now,” said Jack E. Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays.

Similarly, Samarah Meil, owner and travel consultant with Amarillo Travel Network in Amarillo, Texas, noted that news about travel warnings in Mexico are far less than they were a year ago.

“I think it’s because of all the things happening here, such as Sandy Hook,” she said. “The fact is there’s no guarantee of safety anywhere these days. But that shouldn’t make us afraid to travel. If anything, I think people are deciding to go out there and live life.”

Redoubling efforts
By all accounts, Mexico is redoubling efforts to increase its appeal to international visitors. The country’s new secretary of tourism, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, is advocating for improved diversity, infrastructure and sustainability in the country’s tourism product.

Mexico’s recent drop from the UN World Tourism Organization’s list of top 10 international destinations is a disappointing setback. But many observers feel the demotion is not necessarily dire.    

“It’s not that big a deal,” said Richards. “The fact is, everyone is starting to expand their marketing spend. For the first time, even the U.S. has a tourism policy with a big budget to back it up. So, the competition has upped its game.”
    
Certainly, statistics from Pleasant Holidays belie any notion that Mexico is losing ground. Richards reports “fairly significant” increases for Mexico sales in 2013. And the company reached its highest record in March sales to Mexico since it first began selling Mexico vacations 20 years ago.

On the upswing
Agents specializing in Mexico are also reporting positive trends. Meg Austin, owner of Meg2Book in Denver, Colo., said her business to Mexico is up 35% to 40%. A dive adventure specialist, Austin primarily sells the Riviera Maya and Cozumel.

“Families traditionally like to go there in June as soon as school lets out but before summer activities start for the kids,” she said. “This year, air is sold out. I’m talking clients into traveling in August, which is whale shark season and one of my own favorite times to go.”

Meil is also seeing encouraging trends. “So many of my group clients that went last year are contacting me to book trips to Mexico again this year. The repeat clientele is a bonus I’m seeing right now,” she said.

Top Mexican destinations are also enjoying a record year thus far. Cancun, for example, just finished its most successful Easter season on record. Spring break and the Easter holidays brought more than two million visitors to the destination, with many hotels at 100% occupancy.

Value attracts visitors
Value remains a top motivator driving sales to Mexico, perhaps more so than in prior years. Tour operators note that price increases in Mexico have been modest compared to destinations such as Hawaii. Also, perks such as free wedding packages are giving Mexico a huge advantage in the destination wedding market.

Creative promotions are also a big trend. One luxury brand is offering two free nights at its Beverly Hills property in conjunction with a stay at its Riviera Nayarit location. Air credits are becoming more common, as are resort bonus coupons good for spa treatments, golf and other extras.     

“There are a lot more promotions now than in previous years, especially in the high-end properties,” Meil said. “Agents really need to be experts to give clients the best advice. Most of my clients would still go without the credits, but it’s the icing on the cake.”

Airlift a big factor
Mexico’s traditional mainstays remain popular. Cancun and the Riviera Maya; Los Cabos; Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit are top-sellers. Along with their obvious appeal to beach and nature lovers, good airlift is another key factor working in favor of these destinations. For example, 500 flights per day arrived at Cancun International Airport during the recent Easter season.

“The only reason places like Loreto, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo don’t perform better is because they don’t have the air service to get people down there,” said Richards.
    
Wendy Schwartz-Mix, operations manager for Travel Leaders Maple Grove, Stillwater and Woodbury, Minn., said improved airlift and infrastructure has encouraged her clients to visit Hualtulco on the Pacific Coast.

“Sun Country started operating seasonal service and our clients loved it down there,” she said. “We still have snow here in the Minneapolis area, and Huatulco is extremely warm. And they have wonderful new, upscale resorts, both for families and for the adults-only market. If the nonstop service continues, Huatulco vacations will become an extremely popular trend.”

In Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit, a building boom of new hotels and resorts is attracting visitors. Well-established brands ranging from Iberostar and AMResorts to Hilton and Hard Rock have debuted there in the past year. Intimate boutique properties and luxury hotels set on nature preserves are attracting celebrities, a desirable trend for any destination.

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Tip of the Day

Everybody here is kind of in a daze; nobody knows any facts and figures. But [with the value of the pound falling], it probably will be a hit to travelers leaving the country, and good for those coming.

Franc Jeffrey
CEO. EQ Travel Management

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