by Katie Callahan-Giobbi
In preparation for my recent trip to Mexico, I asked several meeting planner friends of mine what their impression was of Mexico as a meetings destination. I was organizing my thoughts for a speech I was to give to the Mexican tourism and destination marketing community. Not surprising, I heard many positive comments about what a beautiful, hospitable country Mexico is. I heard all about the great food, rich history and outstanding hotels and meeting facilities. At the same time, I heard loud and clear that Mexico’s biggest problem is safety and security.
Is it safety and security? Or is it the perception of safety and security? During my trip I had the good fortune of sitting next to a very smart, accomplished and very successful Mexican hotelier. When we talked about this topic he told me in a very straight-forward way that there are cities in the US that have a higher crime rate per capita than all of Mexico. Mexicans do not deny there is unrest in certain parts of their country. Even so, it is a mistake to assume the entire country is a battleground. In fact, the most troubled areas are hundreds and hundreds of miles away from almost all of the convention and meeting destinations in the country. It would be like assuming that if the crime rate suddenly went up in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be less safe as well.
While doing my homework for this trip, I also learned that 97% of Americans who visit Mexico rate their experience as “extremely satisfied or satisfied.” That’s impressive. I also learned that tourism overall accounts for 9% of Mexico’s GDP compared to 2.7% in the US economy. President Felipe Calderon has declared 2011 as “The Year of Tourism”…and rightfully so. If my economy was that dependent on tourism, I would declare EVERY year the year of tourism. Kudos to President Calderon.
Yes, Mexico is battling a drug war, but perhaps even more threatening to the livelihood of their people and the meetings industry, they are fighting a bigger war against the public perception of safety and security. This is one battle that can be overcome with facts.