MEX­ICO CLOSED ITS TOURISM BOARD, SO TOURIST HOT SPOTS ARE GO­ING DIY,

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY HUGO MARTIN

The Mex­i­can govern­ment de­funded its na­tional tourism board, forc­ing some ho­tel and re­sort towns south of the bor­der to take mat­ters into their own hands to avoid los­ing their big­gest source of trav­el­ers – Cal­i­for­nia.

The re­sult has been the open­ing of two pri­vately funded tourism bu­reaus in Los An­ge­les.

The ho­tels and restau­rants in Los Ca­bos, a re­gion in the south­ern penin­sula of Baja Cal­i­for­nia, have pooled their funds to open the Los Ca­bos Tourism Board in of­fices in Cen­tury City so they can promote their des­ti­na­tion to travel agents and oth­ers in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

“The open­ing of the Los An­ge­les of­fice was a com­pletely ra­tio­nal and strate­gic step that we needed to take,” said Ro­drigo Esponda, manag­ing di­rec­tor of the Los Ca­bos Tourism Board.

A few miles away in down­town Los An­ge­les, four for­mer em­ploy­ees of the Mex­i­can Tourism Board launched a pri­vate mar­ket­ing agency, dubbed Stu­dio Jungla, to promote Yu­catan and Oax­aca, among other Mex­i­can des­ti­na­tions.

“We have a good re­la­tion­ship with tour oper­a­tors, with me­dia and with meet­ing plan­ners here,” said Jorge Gamboa, a for­mer Mex­ico tourism board em­ployee and now staffer at Stu­dio Jungla. “This is a good op­por­tu­nity to promote Mex­ico be­cause Mex­ico is very un­pro­tected.”

The open­ing of the pri­vately funded of­fices re­flect an ef­fort by Mex­i­can tourism of­fi­cials to avoid any dis­rup­tion to the flow of tourists – and dol­lars – stream­ing across the bor­der.

For good rea­son. Mex­ico had ex­pected to wel­come 45 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors who would spend $23.3 bil­lion while in the coun­try in 2019. About 60% of those vis­i­tors were ex­pected to come from the U.S. and 18% from Cal­i­for­nia, ac­cord­ing to a fore­cast by Mex­i­can tourism in­dus­try ex­perts be­fore the tourism bureau was cut. The vis­i­ta­tion num­bers for this year were pro­jected to be a 5.8% in­crease over the pre­vi­ous year.

While the pro­jected growth is good news for Mex­ico’s tourism in­dus­try, it rep­re­sents a slow­down from the past few years when the num­ber of tourists vis­it­ing Mex­ico had grown by dou­ble dig­its an­nu­ally.

Mex­i­can tourism of­fi­cials blame the slow­down on sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing a U.S. State Depart­ment Travel Ad­vi­sory is­sued in April about an in­crease in crime and kid­nap­pings in sev­eral Mex­i­can states, overall con­cerns about the global econ­omy and the ground­ing of the Boe­ing 737 Max plane, which sev­eral air­lines, in­clud­ing Aeromex­ico, had planned to use to serve the grow­ing de­mand for air travel.

Travel in­dus­try ex­perts warn that cut­ting tourism pro­mo­tions and mar­ket­ing can hurt the pop­u­lar­ity of a travel des­ti­na­tion for sev­eral years to come.

“The data shows over and over again that when a govern­ment cuts tourism pro­mo­tion, their com­peti­tors reap an enor­mous eco­nomic ben­e­fit,” said Roger Dow, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion, the trade group for the na­tion’s travel in­dus­try. “Then, when they re­al­ize their mis­take and re-im­ple­ment their mar­ket­ing, it can take years to re­cover their pre­vi­ous mar­ket share.”

For that rea­son, Dow said his trade group is push­ing Con­gress to reau­tho­rize fund­ing to promote the U.S. to in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers. The pro­mo­tional pro­gram, dubbed Brand USA, is paid for by fees charged to tourists and con­tri­bu­tions from the pri­vate travel and tourism busi­nesses.

“I’m never pleased to see a re­duc­tion in tourism pro­mo­tion, whether here or abroad, for the sim­ple fact that this in­dus­try cre­ates eco­nomic ben­e­fits and good jobs for work­ers,” Dow added.

Mex­ico is the sixth most vis­ited coun­try in the world, ac­cord­ing to the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, so tourism in­dus­try

lead­ers in Mex­ico said they were shocked to learn in De­cem­ber that the fed­eral govern­ment was cut­ting its $295 mil­lion in an­nual fund­ing to its na­tional tourism pro­mo­tional board.

“It’s re­ally dev­as­tat­ing for our coun­try if there is no one here to keep the ac­ti­va­tion go­ing for some of th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties,” said Ale­jan­dro Marin, one of the four lead­ers at Stu­dio Jungla.

In­stead, the govern­ment an­nounced it plans to di­vert the tourism fund­ing to build a pas­sen­ger train to serve tourists, trav­el­ing be­tween Canc ún and Palenque, a project that newly elected Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador had promised to fund be­fore tak­ing of­fice Dec. 1.

In Mex­ico, the Visit Mex­ico web­site that was pre­vi­ously funded by the govern­ment is now fi­nanced by pri­vate do­na­tions from Google, Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel and ho­tel com­pany Grupo Posadas. The Mex­i­can govern­ment also cre­ated a panel of tourism en­trepreneur­s, in­clud­ing heads of air­lines and ho­tel com­pa­nies, to help fill the role va­cated by the tourism panel.

Ho­tels and re­sorts of the Baja Cal­i­for­nia re­gion of Los Ca­bos are di­rectly con­tribut­ing $2.5 mil­lion this year, plus $12 mil­lion from ho­tel taxes to fund the Los An­ge­les of­fice of the Los Ca­bos Tourism Board, where tourism rep­re­sen­ta­tives try to ed­u­cate U.S. travel agents about Los Ca­bos and at­tend trade shows to promote the des­ti­na­tion. The tourism of­fice op­er­ates from a swanky Cen­tury City build­ing.

AL­FREDO CORCHADO TNS

Mex­ico is the sixth most-vis­ited coun­try in the world, ac­cord­ing to the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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