The new tourism secretary is in Spain this week to attend the Madrid International Tourism Trade Fair, talk up the government’s tourism agenda and seek to encourage more Spanish investment in Mexico.
But while Miguel Torruco is networking abroad and painting a rosy picture of Mexico as a destination, the industry back home is bracing itself for a downturn this summer that one of its leaders attributes to the government’s decision to cut spending on marketing and disband the tourism promotion agency.
In an interview with the newspaper Milenio, Torruco said Mexico’s embassies and consulates will now take charge of promoting the country’s attractions abroad in the absence of the Tourism Promotion Council (CPTM), but declined to comment on whether the agency’s disbandment would impact negatively on visitor numbers.
Instead, he focused on touting the government’s plans for the tourism sector, placing particular emphasis on the construction of the Maya Train project that will pass through Yucatán peninsula states as well as Chiapas.
“[At the tourism fair] we will have a pavilion that represents all of the country’s states but the biggest news will be the large six-year Maya Train project,” Torruco said.
“. . . It’s a modern train that will run at between 160 and 170 kilometers per hour, it has aroused great interest, as well as in Spain,” he added.
The tourism secretary highlighted that Mexico is the sixth most visited country in the world but pointed out that tourist numbers alone don’t give a full picture of the health of the sector.
“. . . We have to take into account foreign exchange earnings. In that area, we’re in 15th place and in per-capita spending we’re 40th; that’s where you measure the tourism potential of a nation,” Torruco said.
“. . . The best position we’ve had in foreign exchange earnings was in 1994 when we were in ninth place and that will be our benchmark. The biggest challenge will be to create, form and market our tourism product so that it satisfies the needs of an increasingly demanding and knowledgeable consumer,” he said.
Asked how the Secretariat of Tourism will change under his leadership, Torruco responded that the government sees tourism as a “tool for social reconciliation.”
“. . .We’re going to consolidate what we already have and we’ll support local populations in order to avoid having tourism paradises coexisting with marginalized hellholes, to achieve that we’ll coordinate with different secretariats . . .” he said.
Torruco added that during the four days he will be in Madrid, he has meetings scheduled with Spanish businesspeople at which he will encourage them to keep investing in Mexico.
“We mustn’t forget that Spain occupies a leading position as an investor in our country,” he said.
Torruco also observed that Mexico is ranked eighth in the world in terms of hotel infrastructure.
But while there are a lot of hotels and resorts, the president of the National Tourism Business Council (CNET) fears that there won’t be enough tourists this summer to fill them.
“For summer, we could see a hit [decline] of between 20% and 30%, not just in volume [hotel occupancy] but also in economic spillover,” Pablo Azcárraga said.
“What worries me is that we have the stopped the [tourism] campaigns and the impact we’ll see [as a result] in the summer . . . We have a hotel industry with 7,000 more rooms [than a year ago] and they have to be filled. We’re already late with promotion,” he added.
Azcárraga warned that if reservations remain slow, hotel operators would likely lower rates, meaning that the benefit to Mexico’s economy will be less and Torruco’s aim to increase per-capita spending will be undermined.
“If demand goes down, the pressure we’re going to have to discount prices will be very big.”