Work and play: State enjoys rising caché for business travellers and adventure tourists alike

San Luis Potosí is perhaps not as popular as the tourist destinations of Oaxaca or Cancún; however, its profile is on the rise. While the historic centre of the state’s capital city is an attraction in itself, it is the more remote areas where the current administration is seeking to capitalise on the potential in adventure tourism.

From the ghost town of Real de Catorce in the northern plateau region, to the rainforest, rivers, waterfalls and indigenous cultures of the Huasteca region in the south-east, the state is home to diverse potential attractions. Tourism, therefore, can provide an opportunity to diversify economic activity away from San Luis Potosí’s central region, which accounts for just over half the population but 84.1% of GDP.

Business Destination

For the first 11 months of 2016 the state recorded a hotel occupancy rate of 69% – the highest among 70 of Mexico’s inland cities. Those in highest demand were four- and five-star hotels, suggesting the prominence of business travellers. Indeed, a press release from the governor’s office credited the 123 conferences and conventions for the 1.39m visitors that San Luis Potosí received in the 12 months to September 2016 – a 10% increase year-on-year. According to Marco Antonio Camarena, regional administrator of San Luis Potosí’s airport, around 75% of passengers who use the airport are business travellers, with the remaining 25% consisting of leisure travellers or locals. According to Juan Manuel Carreras, governor of San Luis Potosí, the continuing increase in business travellers is driving the arrival of more hotels, with more than 30 under construction as of November 2016. In June 2016 the US-owned Staybridge Suites opened its first hotel in the city, catering to those coming to spend extended time working at the state’s various foreign-owned industrial plants.

That does not mean, however, that business travel and leisure tourism are entirely separate phenomena. Bernardo López, general director of Logistik industrial park, told OBG that the quality of life and the nearby leisure options were one of the attractions that encourage foreign companies to move to San Luis Potosí. The French, Germans and North Americans, for example, that own and run craft brew pubs in the old centre add to a sense of safety and contribute in building a thriving nightlife. Not everywhere in Mexico can offer this to visiting workers. Moreover, “industrial growth is an opportunity to promote local tourist attractions and make the sector more important”, Artur Esper Sulaiman, secretary of tourism for San Luis Potosí, told OBG. “For the moment just 15% of tourists in the state come from foreign countries, and the administration would like to increase that,” he added.

Untapped Beauty

One way to do this is by displaying regional attractions at trade fairs and expos. San Luis Potosí hosted the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s AdventureNEXT trade fair 2016 – the first time the expo was held in Latin America. The state also participated in the Chicago Travel & Adventure Show and The Boston Globe Travel Show earlier this year. “We have multiple nature and adventure locales, and we believe we can become one of the leading destinations for this kind of tourism in Mexico and worldwide,” Carreras told OBG. “Given the remote nature of some of San Luis Potosí’s greatest destinations, however, the government needs to ensure we are making the necessary investments in infrastructure to increase visitors to the region,” he added.

Investment will not focus solely on transport, however. As in other sectors, tourism growth requires the state to develop education programmes for workers, something that the Carreras administration has outlined in its six-year plan for the sector. “Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Villages) programme is bringing funds to the state,” Manuel Lozano, secretary of labour for San Luis Potosí, told OBG. “Through the federal programme, MXN2.5m ($150,700) has been invested in training tourism-related businesses in the state’s two Pueblos Mágicos – Real de Catorce and Xilitla.”