In 2017, Mexico surpassed Germany, the United Kingdom and Turkey to become the sixth-most visited destination in the world.
International visitor spending during that same period reached $21.3 billion, also a record for the nation.
“We are very proud of having reached, for the first time in our history, the sixth-most-visited country in the world,” said Mexico Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid speaking to an audience of travel agents during a Mark Travel Corporation webinar.
The numbers are growing at a dizzying rate. From 2013 through 2017, the nation saw a 62 percent increase in visitor traffic, the fastest growth rate of any large global destination.
Accordingly, infrastructure is also expanding, including welcoming 15,000 to 20,000 new hotel rooms every year. “Just last semester, 7,000 new rooms were inaugurated [in Mexico],” said de la Madrid.
He also noted that the CEOs of Marriott and Hilton hotels have committed to adding 43 new properties in Mexico in the next two to three years.
Connectivity to the nation is also increasing. In 2017, some 18.6 million international visitors arrived by air.
For 2018 alone, the country has already welcomed 4,600 new flights, including new service from Chicago to Mazatlan, Denver to Cozumel, Los Angeles to Acapulco and Seattle to Mexico City.
Mexico’s transformation into global tourism star has not come without its challenges, including an ongoing concern over visitor safety.
Mexico’s tourism industry has vowed to take a harder line on people and organizations spreading mis-information about the country.
The Mark Travel Corporation webinar, which also featured tourism updates from area convention and visitors bureaus, was designed to help answer travel agents concerns and questions about these issues.
“[Mexico] is a fantastic destination and [one] that has been important to our company for over 30 years,” said host Ray Snisky, Executive Vice President & Chief Commercial Officer of The Mark Travel Corporation, before introducing Secretary de la Madrid. “It is the passion, warmth and graciousness of the people of Mexico that really makes that destination unique.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation [about Mexico] right now.” Snisky said, and that having the right information would transition into clarity and energy for travel agents selling Mexico.
During the webinar, Secretary de la Madrid addressed travel agent concerns about safety.
In the last update of the U.S. State Department,” he said, “there is basically no major touristic destination [in Mexico] that has any travel advisory.”
He noted that as of last August there were two visitor destinations with warnings, which went away with the update of the State Department Advisory system in January. He also clarified that the new system has four qualification levels.
“Number 1, I suppose, being paradise,” he said, “[while Number 2] is all the normal countries around the world, where they put Mexico but they also put the UK, France and Spain. Just remember France is the number one tourist destination worldwide and Spain is number two, so we have the same qualification as those two destinations.”
He also told agents to remember that while Mexico frequently appears in the media over sensationalistic stories about violence, those stories are mostly drug-related.
“Tourists coming to Mexico are not the target of this violence and they are not impacted, mainly, by this violence.” He pointed out that zero homicides in Cancun last year involved tourists.
He also added a little context, pointing out that Mexico is not too different than what happens in other parts of the world, or what happens in the U.S. The general crime rates generally do not have an impact on visitors to those destinations.
Despite the relatively low impact on visitors, Mexico’s tourism industry is taking these concerns seriously. A number of safety improvements have been implemented in Baja California Sur, where Los Cabos is locatd, for example. In April, said de la Madrid, Los Cabos saw its homicide rate drop by 80 percent.
Mexico is following a similar safety model in Quintana Roo, which is home to some of the nation’s top visitor destinations, including Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Riviera Maya.
The measures, which are being spearheaded by state and local authorities as well as the tourism industry include an increased police presence at area beaches and on the roads. Also, additional metal detectors are being installed in Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. There’s also a new mobile site for visitor safety.
De la Madrid also addressed last year’s allegations of tainted alcohol being served in some of the top resort areas.
“Not a single claim of tainted alcohol consumption has ever been proven true,” he said. “There was [however] evidence of a combination of excessive drinking and there was evidence of drugs.”
He has also said Mexico will no longer “tolerate” any case where information being spread is false.
Out of a desire to not to harm anyone’s reputation, Mexico was slow to point a finger at the accusers’ use of excessive drugs and alcohol.
“But the reputation [we want to harm least] is ours,” he said.
He also recognized some media and other parties were frustrated with Mexico’s slow response, as the tourism industry tried to piece together what happened and said this was a mistake Mexico will not repeat.
Mexico will implement a management system in order to investigate situations more quickly.
“We are trying to provide information soon, even if it is not yet complete,” he said. “That’s something we are working on.”
He said Mexico was keeping a careful eye on a report from the CDC that has called “binge drinking” an epidemic in the United States. This is something that obviously could affect Mexico, which welcomes more than 20 million American visitors every year.
More training will also be provided to hotel personnel, teaching front line staff to stop serving alcohol to guests who are clearly inebriated.
“They are not obliged to give these guests more alcohol,” he said.
De la Madrid also asked travel agents and other partners who do business in Mexico, to help set the record straight and be more proactive about sharing accurate information. He also recommended that travel agents stay educated about Mexico so they can become experts on selling the country. Agents can enroll in the new Visit Mexico University program to do so.
Other speakers during the Mark Travel webinar include Jorge Tellez, Promotion Director, The Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau; Julio Birrueta, Director of the Mazatlán Tourism Board; Elvira Moncayo, Public Relations, Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board; Marc Murphy, Director General, Riviera Nayarit; and Rodrigo Esponda, Managing Director, Los Cabos Tourism Board.