13 FEB 2019: Mexico’s decision to close its international tourism offices, including in Canada, is “crazy” and “a massive step backwards” says one of this country’s tour operators, while another is urging the country to reconsider its decision.

“We believe [the move] is short-sighted and a bad decision,” says Elvi Cal, VP Product Development for TravelBrands, of the plan to shutter the Toronto office by the end of the month (with Montreal already effectively closed). “Their presence in Canada is extremely important as they support not only the wholesalers/tour operators but the retail community. Mexico is the biggest destination for Canadians and not to have a dedicated tourism office to represent the destination and keep it in the forefront of the market is crazy. While most countries are looking at expanding their footprint in Canada, Mexico is taking a massive step backwards.”

The decision to close all but three of 21 international Mexico Tourism Board offices (New York, Berlin and Tokyo, have at least for now only been downsized) has been rumoured since even before the election of a new government in Mexico last fall.

Indeed, president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government, which took office Dec. 1, said it intended to quickly dissolve the Tourism Promotion Council of Mexico (CPTM), which funds the board, as part of an austerity plan, and hand over tourism promotional duties to its consulates instead.

It has also been suggested that funds earmarked for promotion (including funding the board) would be diverted to finally build a long-discussed and much-debated high-speed tourism train linking cities and towns along the Yucatan peninsula. The project, dubbed the Mayan Train, is currently projected to cost $5.2 billion and take six years to build.

Cal says he’s not certain how much the office closing will affect consumers’ decisions to choose to travel to Mexico, but he says, “It will definitely leave a big void in tourist support, expanding travel beyond beaches to the colonial cities. The consular offices who are supposed to now provide the tourism services may be ill-equipped to sell the destination and its uniqueness.”

The trade will also suffer, he says. “The tourist board provides support in terms of marketing initiatives, facilitating relationships with the key decision-makers in Mexico City and the various regions, and they attend our product launches and help us sell the Mexico. They will be missed.”

Mexico ranked as the No. 6 most-visited destination in the world with 39.3 million visitors in 2017, with Canada contributing almost two million of those, making it Mexico’s No. 2 overall source market (after the US).

As such, the destination is tops or near the top for most Canadian tour operators.

“Mexico is our number one,” says Cal. “We don’t have our own airplanes as we sell Air Canada, WestJet and all the U.S. carriers, so with the amount of flights into the destinations from all these sources, and quality of available hotel product, it represents a significant amount of our business. Closing their offices in Canada will surely have an impact. It may not be immediate but without local representation and support, it will be felt.”

WestJet agrees that it is “short-sighted” for Mexico “to remove those representatives in Canada who are able speak directly to Canadian travel agents, vacation providers, travellers and airlines about Mexico’s destinations and issues.”

And while WestJet Vacations VP Tim Croyle vows, “We will continue to work with tourism boards in Mexico to market this wonderful country to our guests,” he adds, “We hope that the tourism board reconsiders this decision.”

For its part, Sunwing is taking the news in stride. At least for now. “Different governments (and in fact different ministers) have different approaches to promoting their country and working with their top producing partners,” company COO Andrew Dawson told Travel Industry Today. “We can’t really comment until we understand their full plans.”

However, Dawson notes that with eight Mexican destinations (Cancun, Cozumel and six Pacific coast destinations) available from a range of gateways across Canada in its roster, the tour company partners with specific states as well as the federal government.

Transat is similarly hopeful that Mexico’s regions will pick up the slack. “It is very unfortunate to see these offices closing, and to lose the contact with great partners with whom we have developed relationships over the years,” company spokesperson Marie-Annick Lalande says. But she adds, “Due to the great support we receive from the different regions within Mexico, we do not see this closure affecting our business.”

Mexico’s move is not unprecedented, rather just the latest bout in an age-old debate between governments and the tourism trade, whereby the former, according to the latter, doesn’t appreciate the contributions that tourism makes to national and local economies and job creation, and the need for adequate funding, resources, and policies to succeed.

US Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow has stated on many occasions during his long tenure that incoming governments have had to be “educated” by the tourism industry as to their extreme value (and thereby earn suitable levels of funding). Even Barack Obama, considered the most tourism-friendly US president in recent history, did not start out that way, Dow says. As evidence, the US was essentially absent in a federal capacity in Canada before the advent of Brand USA.

Certainly, many countries and organizations do intimately appreciate the tremendous economic benefits of tourism (and by extension, supporting it). At the recent Caribbean Travel Marketplace in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Frank Comito, director general and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association noted, for example, that a healthy hotel sector contributes to growth in employment and higher tax revenues for governments.

"A healthy hotel sector is paramount to economic growth,” he said. “While every sector of our tourism economy is important, specifically cruise, marinas, and vacation home rentals, it is the hotel sector which has the greatest multiplier effect on economies. They continue to have the greatest impact on employment generation, spin-off businesses, new airlift, and tax revenue.”

Meanwhile, Caribbean Tourism Organization secretary general Hugh Riley, in a message that ought to resonate with Mexico, which seems to be eschewing a strong national tourism organization for individual private and public local efforts, says, “The evidence is clear that a strong, unified Caribbean gives the region a global advantage which individual member-countries on their own have little chance of attaining.”

But for Mexico, the message merely and clearly seems to be: “mañana.”

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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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