Mexico recently stepped onto the world stage, and this time it was for all the right reasons. It’s no secret the headlines don’t do Mexico many favors, but perhaps the tides are turning. Perhaps there will be some much needed focus on the good news in Mexico… because there IS good news… and lots of it.
I just returned from a trip to the Riviera Maya for the WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council – www.wttc.org ) inaugural Regional Summit of the Americas  event, which celebrates the economic and social contribution of Travel & Tourism in a particular region (but also addresses the real challenges the industry faces). This was significant for Mexico on many levels, but primarily because it brought together world and industry leaders who understand the importance of tourism.
Tourism defines Mexico, and even in times of trouble, it is this industry that continues to soar and elevate their economy. Travel & Tourism sustained a total of 6.3 million direct, indirect and induced jobs in Mexico in 2011. And for every $1 million USD spent on travel and tourism, it generates a further $1.5 million USD to the Mexican economy as a whole, as well as 66 jobs per (compared to an average of 42 for all sectors). The Travel & Tourism industry generates more jobs than all other sectors considered - double that of the automotive industry, twenty times that of mining and six times that of the financial services sector.
The very fact that something as prestigious as the WTTC would host an event in Mexico is also sending a powerful message to economies of the world… Mexico is here to stay and is a global leader in tourism. Having been to countless tourism events hosted in and by Mexico over the last 20 years, this was by far the most productive and forward thinking of the bunch. The WTTC has spearheaded global analysis of the economic impact of Travel & Tourism for over 20 years, and is dedicated to measuring the influence of this sector to the GDP (gross domestic product), income and employment in 181 countries. To have Mexico stand tall amongst this crowd is indeed an accomplishment.
Unlike some events I’ve attended on tourism, this felt very intimate and real, not to mention the laundry list of heavy-hitters on the discussion panels and in attendance. The Summit was co-chaired by WTTC President & CEO David Scowsill and was highlighted by speakers like President Calderón, the Mexico Tourism Secretary, Gloria Guevara, Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, WTTC Chairman (and Chairman of the Executive Board of TUI AG-Europe’s leading travel group), Michael Frenzel, film director, actor and environmentalist Robert Redford, and the Mexican billionaire businessman and philanthropist Carlos Slim.
They all touched on (to varying degrees) the strength of Mexico’s economy. Stats show the Mexican economy has been growing at a sustainable rate of 3.5-5.5% over the past three years, numbers that President Calderón was more than happy to boast about (and I don’t blame him). Both Calderón and Secretary Guevara drilled it down to the direct industry GDP of Mexico’s Travel & Tourism, noting this particular sector expanded 58% between 1990 and 2011, while the total economy expanded 72%. Based on further data compiled by the WTTC, that number is expected to grow at an annual average of 4.4% over the next decade.
Those are powerful, positive numbers for not only Mexican destinations, resorts, airlines and tour operators, but compelling news for those in the travel business worldwide. It’s also a testament to the success of tackling security issues head on. It’s clear that Mexico’s efforts to educate the travel audience are gaining a foothold, and tourists are believing and understanding the message. And with an election just months away, a new president and a new administration will undoubtedly keep the ball rolling.
With the endless negative press about Mexico, you have to dig deep in the news to find the good stuff. But here, in this arena, at a global event, the good news seemed to finally be in spotlight. I felt lucky to have been a part of all of it and to have had the rare opportunity to learn from world and industry leaders. Keep in mind the reality of Mexico’s image problem, safety issues and other challenges weren’t pushed aside, but the panel discussions here were geared to be part of the solution. As a journalist, tourist and traveler, I embraced a forum that really addressed Mexico’s (and the world’s) position on tourism and its extraordinary impact on economies of all scales.