Interview: Enrique de la Madrid Cordero
What steps are being taken to diversify Mexico’s tourist destinations and activities?
ENRIQUE DE LA MADRID: Five destinations still represent 80% of tourist activity in the country and this clearly needs to change. This doesn’t mean we should de-prioritise beach areas; they are natural attractions for millions of tourists from Europe and North America escaping their winters. For nearly 50 years the Pueblos Mágicos (magical towns) programme has done this very thing, promoting 111 picturesque towns as tourist destinations. To build on its existing success we must ensure that the towns are well connected, their populations learn English, and that we offer visitors a range of cultural and gastronomic offerings. Mexico is much more than a sun, sea and sand destination. World events such as Formula 1 and American football matches put us firmly on the calendar for sports tourism. The James Bond film Spectre left the international audience with an overwhelmingly positive impression of Mexico, demonstrating that the country has much more to offer than the typical beach holiday.
How can the strong growth in tourism be leveraged as a driver of economic and social development across Mexico as a whole?
DE LA MADRID: According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, in 2015 tourism represented 8.7% of GDP and it still continues to grow well above Mexico’s annual economic growth. In 10 years the sector has generated 963,000 jobs and employs more people on an annual basis than the whole manufacturing sector. When we examine value chains in the sector, around 60% of all tourism supplies are imported. This could change in the short to medium term, given the weak peso and the growth in manufacturing and agriculture in the Mexican economy. This presents a perfect opportunity to buy locally and redistribute wealth within the country. While people talk about tourism as the country’s economic engine, it is important to ensure the highest percentage of people possible benefit from its power.
To what extent is infrastructure being developed to facilitate the growth of tourism in previously underutilised areas of the country?
DE LA MADRID: We are making a continuous effort to ensure that the country’s tourism infrastructure meets the growing demands of the sector. More domestic and international flights are being established alongside an expansion in roads and ports. Much of this is thanks to increased lending levels from investment banks such as Banobras and Bancomext, which are contributing to help ensure we grow our capacity in everything from golf courses to marinas, airports and roads. This is in addition to our hotel infrastructure, where we are adding between 12,000 to 15,000 rooms a year nationwide. Luckily, we are funded through a variety of sources – the existing stakeholders in the tourist sector, the financial system in the form of financing mechanisms such as real estate investment trusts, and state-sponsored programmes such as Bancomext’s “Mejora Tu Hotel” (Improve Your Hotel). This programme involves the investment of over MXN1bn ($60.3m) in funds directed at the improvement of hotels by their owners, as well as restaurants and all the facilities in the entire value chain. We are creating programmes to ensure hoteliers are developing their service skills to international levels. Another important aspect of this concerns the regulatory frameworks related to increasing the number of tourists. The signing in 2016 of the US-Mexico open skies agreement, which opened the doors for unlimited expansion of flights between the two countries, could particularly help here. This is a positive step in spite of the geopolitical challenges.
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