magic town mexico

I just attended Mexico’s main annual travel trade conference, held this year in Puerto Vallart/Riviera Nayarit and got the scoop on what’s new and important in Mexico Tourism. Despite the drumbeat of negative press, Mexico had a record year for visitors in 2011, with nearly 23 million people arriving from international destinations. The U.S. sent a few less, but Canada sent 7% more and new markets like Brazil (up 67%) more than took up the slack.

On the destination front, I’m really pleased to see a concerted and aggressive effort to spread out the tourism base to lesser-known towns and cities, especially those that aren’t beach destinations. The Pueblos Magicos (Magic Towns) program has been so successful that it has grown to 54 destinations. It gives special places with character extra funds to spruce up the city and up the game in terms of infrastructure and hospitality staff training. It encompasses places like the town of Tequila in Jalisco, Patzcuaro near Morelia, Todos Santos north of Cabo San Lucas, and Jerez near Zacatecas (a shop there pictured to the right).

The national government is also putting resources into specifically promoting the UNESCO World Heritage cities. For the most part these are safe, beautiful, under-the-radar cities, places like Campeche (west of Merida), Zacatecas, and my sometimes home of Guanajuato.

Travel Alerts

Another big initiative has been in getting the U.S. State Department to be more specific and accurate in its travel alerts. This has been a productive dialogue, with the alerts getting much more useful now (instead of just treating the whole country the same) and they’re even using maps to pinpoint problem areas. Unfortunately, Texas, a state that thinks it’s an independent country, has ignored all that and once again told Spring Break students to “avoid Mexico.” This despite the fact that the most popular resort areas for Americans/Canadians are far safer than Houston or Dallas by any crime measure you look at.

More and Better Air Connections

It’s no surprise that the death of Mexicana a few years ago put a serious dent in the flight options for visiting Mexico, especially from Europe. Other airlines have stepped in to fill the gap in some cases, but it’s taken years for the country to claw its way back and it’s currently at 88% of the international routes it had before that. Getting there, but still not ideal. So the government is pushing hard to get more flights in and are having some success that should improve the situation, both from Europe and the U.S. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes on this, so it should get better late this year and next.

Interjet

The flip side of that is that the domestic air situation has improved dramatically. There are now five viable and seemingly healthy airlines making domestic flights and some to the U.S.: Aeromar, Interjet, Volaris, Aerobus, and the old standby Aeromexico. If you live in the Southwest, one of these guys may be serving a city near you or will start soon. I’m excited that Interjet is now offering a flight from Miami to Mexico City.

Infrastructure

While our crumbling U.S. infrastructure is suffering from political gridlock, Mexico is going full speed ahead. Nearing completion right now are a bridge over a gorge that will allow fast transit between Mazatlan and Durango. That cuts down the driving time between the U.S. and Mazatlan to 12 hours. There’s also a new airport highway that will get you to the Golden Zone faster.

Other major highways are cutting down bus or driving times. Examples are Morealia to Zacatecas, Mexico City to Puebla, and Oaxaca City to Huatulco.

Also, the Green Angels roadside assistance program has expanded into a general tourism assistance hotline. If you have a problem on your vacation, call 078 from a local phone. They’ll help you sort it out.

Related links from Luxury Latin America:
The best hotel in Patzcuaro, the best hotels in Guanajuato, and the luxury hacienda hotels in Campeche.