By Lark Ellen Gould
Where’s the beach? Mexico. Some 1,000 kilometers of it. But at this year’s 37th Tianguis Turistico held for the first time ever not in Acapulco, but in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico pulled out the stops for showcasing just what this country of fun in the sun can do for visitors.
High on the list of topics and discussions, of course, was crime. Is Mexico safe? Yes, if you look at non-cruise international arrival numbers: 22.7 million in 2011, a 2.1% increase over 2010.
But then, no, if you watch the lengthy alert notices from Texas (the only state that issues travel alerts) or State Department travel warnings targeting towns and cities all over the country. Mexico tourism officials, however, tell a different story.
“If a little incident happens in a village 500 miles from Puerto Vallarta, it has nothing to do with Puerto Vallarta,” said Rodolpho Lopez Negrete, Undersecretary and COO for Tourism Mexico (CTPM). “Even in a city like Mazatlan, if you stay within the tourism zones there is no problem. I would not visit certain places in East L.A. but that does not mean I would not visit Los Angeles.”
In addressing an incident in February in which 22 passengers from the Carnival Splendor were robbed at gun point on their return from a jungle trek excursion at El Nogalito, the undersecretary noted that some crucial information went unreported or erroneously reported – mainly that the gunman was acting alone, was not part of a cartel or gang, and that a mugging like that can happen anywhere.
In evidence at the conference and elsewhere in Mexico was the security, whether local policia walking the Malecon or troops panning the streets, especially in light of the president of Mexico’s presence in PV for the conference.
President Felipe Calderon told Tianguis attendees that despite the falloff in U.S. tourism, due in part to “the oftentimes unfair conditions (regarding) the perception of our country,” Mexico has to aim for more and make it worth while with new “historic” investments in transportation infrastructure, cruise ports and promotions. He noted the 19,000 km road and highway improvement project underway linking key cities, such as Mazatlan and Mexico City and cutting travel time in half; a new cruise pier in Puerto Vallarta, a new marina and airport in the Sea of Cortez; expanding Cancun’s airport, and solidifying something called “The National Agreement” to keep all projects on track and out of the waste of politics.
“We want people to come over to Mexico and feel it because Mexico is meant to be felt,” said Calderon.
Underscoring these efforts, according to Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, Gloria Guevara Manzo, are Internet promotion developments, in particular, a destination app called the Turistico Atlas of Mexico. The interactive Internet spot will be found on visitmexico.com, the official tourism website of the Mexico Tourism Board, and will be available for download on smartphones and tablets. On it, visitors will find easy to access info on 85 destinations, 13,617 hotels, 198,538 restaurants, 5,279 travel agencies, 117 museums, 70 airports and 184 archaeological sites – basically the country’s national database of tourism assets. These will also be wrapped into experience descriptions of Mexico’s 52 Magic Towns, Adventure locations, beaches, the Mayan World Route, Mexico’s precious pueblos and colonial cities – often with package information and readability in English and Spanish.
Also of note, although not yet tried and tested by outside vetters, is a new, country-wide “call us” program that visitors can use by dialing “078” from anywhere in Mexico. The call will be answered by “travel advocates,” supposedly in English as well as Spanish, who can handle problems visitors encounter at a hotel or on a tour, or get information about a hotel, a destination, a direction or distance. They can even get restaurant recommendations and book a resort, said Negrete.
“It’s overseen by a larger consumer protection agency in Mexico. We have been working on this with success for a long time, starting when we had timeshare issues.”
Finally, Negrete noted that Mexico is working with the U.S. and the state of Texas (which is currently warning spring breakers to avoid Mexico all together) to get a handle on the “alerts” that have had little to do with tourism yet are driving people away from the entire country.
“We have been working to ensure these alerts are more correct, more precise and show maps,” he said. “We do not want people to go to unsafe places either.”
Judging from attendance at this year’s Tianguis, the alerts may, indeed, be falling on deaf ears. The conference was deemed highly successful with an attendance of 7,000 delegates, up from 4,000 a year ago, met by some 568 buyer companies and conducting some 22,000 business-to-business appointments. The conference marked the first time in 37 years that Tianguis was held in a location other than Acapulco and launched the practice of holding Tianguis in a different location in Mexico every year. In 2013, that place will be Puebla, followed by a 2014 Tianguis in Cancun.