Following a controversial decision by the new Mexican government to radically curtail the work of the national tourist board, Sapphire Goss heads to Tianguis Turístico in Acapulco to assess how the move is being received by the local hospitality sector
Earlier this month Acapulco hosted the 44th annual Tianguis Turístico, the preeminent event celebrating the Mexican hospitality sector. Over 1,000 hosted buyers from 43 countries gathered at the Mundo Imperial, Acapulco’s newest convention venue, for the show, giving them a chance to meet with over 600 exhibitors and learn about the different regions of the country.
Glamourous events for participants throughout included a lavish dinner and fireworks display on the beach at the Acapulco naval base, a ‘Taste of Mexico’ street food event and a spectacular closing party for thousands of guests hosted at the Princess Mundo Imperial Riviera Diamante Hotel.
Expo Mundo Imperial played host to Expo Mundo Imperial this year
The host city Acapulco, in its heyday synonymous with retro Hollywood glitz, has seen its share of troubles in recent years. The once-fashionable location has made headlines recently for being Mexico’s murder capital, for example. Previously the epitome of glamour, its image is now tarnished by drug-fuelled violence. For obvious reasons Acapulco is keen to counteract those safety fears, largely by bringing people to the destination and showing them in person.
Piquis Rochin, international public relations director for Acapulco Tourism, explains to Breaking Travel News: “What we need is for you to see the reality in person. Come here and see the destination with your own eyes, the people, the destination, and that not a lot of violence is happening. There is a lot of exaggeration. It’s no different to any other part of the world. And we take precautions, we have a good police communication system - like any big city, it has its problems, but not involving tourists.”
While traditionally renowned as a beach destination, Acapulco is diversifying into a wide range of hospitality markets such as health, sport, eco-tourism and culture. The resort has invested heavily in infrastructure and other resources, including roads, new museums, bike routes, a state-of-the-art hospital and a University of Tourism.
New flights from Tui Group will also launch later this year, serving to improve connectivity further.
Mexican tourism has been damaged by a reputation for violence
Tianguis Turístico itself is a demonstration of trust in the location. “It is an honour and a vote of confidence for Acapulco and the state of Guerrero to host once again the all-important Tianguis Turístico,” Ernesto Rodríguez Escalona, secretary of tourism for Guerrero, tells delegates during the opening ceremony.
Key issues discussed throughout the show included sustainability, national infrastructure, the unstoppable rise of Airbnb, public safety and the seaweed problems blighting the Caribbean coast.
However, the hot topic on everyone’s lips is the decision by new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to radically reduce the role of the Mexico Tourism Board, with the organisation set to close 17 of its 21 overseas offices in the coming months. The $300 million this will save has been pledged towards building a Mayan train. While this looks to be a great infrastructure project on paper, without promotion and investment in tourism in general will it become a white elephant? Is the funnelling of money away from the tourism board to build the railway, in the words of Alex Zozaya, chief executive of Apple Leisure Group, “killing the chicken of the golden egg to make new products”?
Tianguis Turístico is the leading trade show for Mexican hospitality
Only time will tell, but the omens are not good.
Individual destinations will do what they can to promote themselves, but it’s hard to see how that will be feasible on a global scale without the unified vision and support of a national tourism strategy. The mood throughout the trade show is stoic and tentative in the face of an uncertain future.
Rochin explains: “It is a very difficult topic right now. We need the Mexican Tourist Board, we worked together. And they were the ones who brought you together and informed you of what was going on in other parts of Mexico. Now the new government has to make it up in a similar form to keep us competing with other parts of the world because the Mexican Tourist Board did a good job.”
Tourism remains a vital component of the Mexican economy
Security and international safety fears have blighted Mexico in recent years, making the need for positive promotion especially pressing, so it seems like a surprising decision. Gonzalo del Peon, president of AMResorts, is wary: “If we decrease funds to promote the country to counter these narratives and points of view, we will suffer the consequences,” he says.
Mexico has also been hit hard by American policy, notably president Trump’s call for a border wall and the US government advisory banning government workers from travelling to certain areas. As Zozaya candidly puts it: “The greater [Trump’s] obsession with the wall, the more dangerous he makes Mexico sound, the more people want the wall. And that damages Mexico’s reputation on the world stage - and this worries us. It affects rhetoric, it effects tourism.”
The destination is losing US market share in particular. But the new secretary of tourism, Miguel Torruco, having just seen his first 100 days of office, seemed confident in his unconventional strategy. At a press conference given at the close of Tianguis Turístico he spoke about the new methods he would be using in the absence of the Mexico Tourism Board. These include using the power of embassies and cities, relying on word of mouth for the best promotion, and using technology (such as apps and the popularity of the VisitMexico website) to reach consumers and agents directly. As he puts it: “Instead of shooting everywhere we’re going to shoot on target - and use this new technology platform to do so.”
Mexico secretary of tourism, Miguel Torruco, expressed confidence in the future of the sector
There are also plans to aim for a slice of the lucrative Asian market with ‘Operation Knocking Doors’ – a series of meetings set up by the government to try and attract some of the 130 million outbound trips made annually by Chinese travellers alone.
Time will tell if this will be enough to counter the loss of key tourism resources, knowledge and networks represented by the Mexico Tourist Board. Mexico has a wealth of attractions to offer visitors. Each region offers a completely distinct feel from the next, making it ideal for multi-destination tourism. But as Zozaya puts it: “Publicity, safety, infrastructure have to be aligned in our strategy: great resources are not enough.”
Tianguis Turístico is the most important event for the Mexican tourism industry and takes the form of a business forum based on pre-scheduled appointments between buyers and exhibitors.
Find out more on the official website.