Travelling to Mexico in the wake of one of the worst tourism declines in recent memory, has been an eery experience: the occasional masked traveller, the non-existent line ups to check-in and a 319 with perhaps 20 passengers. But it isn’t the feeling of crossing some imaginary boundary to a forbidden land or the fear of catching some untamed virus awaiting at the arrival lounge. What makes this trip so uneasy is the realization that the millions of people that are not flying today may not be coming back to Mexico for a really long time.
Whether failures in policy-making, mass-hysteria, international press or just some random genetic mutation are to blame for the stampede the fact is that loosing its tourism edge, Mexico is posed for very dark times ahead. Suffice to know that its tourism industry is second only to oil.
In the midst of such a downturn the entire sector will have to rethink how it positions itself to re-engage with travellers. Yes, Mexico has a privileged geography and has exploited it through the continuous development of its traditional hubs, usually beach destinations flocked by charters full of travellers that prepaid the entire experience back home. I believe those days are over, not because those people will no longer consider Mexico as an alternative and will gradually rediscover its benefits, but because there are far too many options outside of Mexico where the exact same experience is available: blue waters, white sand, palm trees, cheap drinks and lots of sun. The quintessential beach vacation. As people are forced to try other options, they will find them and will have no problem in evaluating their loyalties.
Hopefully the prospects of such a decline will reenergize the sector and open the doors for a new generation of travel ventures that will restore the reputation of Mexico as a prime destination, not only a beach destination but a complex one that spans world-class historic sites, charming colonial towns as well as a very diverse range of cultures that cover its varied geography.
I’m sure the government is already planning how to spend millions of dollars on marketing its way to normal levels and all the major hotel chains are calculating how low they can go to compensate. But what is really needed is a grass-root movement that looks at each corner of the country as a potential magnet for a new kind of tourist: the kind that won’t run after the cheapest room, the kind that puts its heart into researching a trip for months because she knows it will be a life-changing experience. The eco-traveller that understands what kind of impact she can effect on a place, both physically and morally. The equivalent to the agro-tourism that has shifted attention to the Italian country. Reinventing tourism in Mexico will require the participation of people beyond the industry. I’m certain everyone will have something to say as we’ve all been to Mexico at least once. Haven’t we?