Friday, 3 March 2017

MEXICO: Trump Border Wall,Mexico Tourism Industry Worried Or Not

Depending on the source, Mexico's tourism industry either has mucho or nada to worry about when it comes to president Trump's border wall.

Ever since Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 directing the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, travel sellers, tour operators, hoteliers and destination marketing organizations have been reporting conflicting information about whether or not U.S. travelers are wary about heading south of the border because of political tensions between the two countries.

But Mexico's top tourism marketer said this week that, so far, visitor trends show no impact from Trump's order to build the wall.

"We've seen no indications of any disinterest in visiting Mexico," said Lourdes Berho, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board. "Our focus is to ensure that travelers have incredible experiences in Mexico and that they always want to keep coming back -- not politics."

Regionally, Mexican destinations made similar observations. According to Agustin Alvarez, director of the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board, that destination has experienced a continued increase in visitors since the U.S. presidential elections. Moreover, based on numbers provided by the Puerto Vallarta Hotel Association, the destination is expecting a 4% increase in hotel occupancy in 2017 compared with last year.

Kevin Froemming, chief marketing officer for Playa Hotels & Resorts, which owns and operates 13 resorts in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, said the company has not seen any impact on Mexico hotel-room demand.

And Mandy Chomat, vice president of sales and marketing for Karisma Hotels and Resorts, said his business is up 14.7% year over year on the Riviera Maya and that wedding bookings are up 22%.

"There is no better time to visit Mexico than now, with the strength of the dollar and the warmth of the Mexican people," he said.

Likewise, Delta Vacations reported that its 2017 bookings to Mexico are up more than 20% year over year.

"We couldn't be more pleased with the demand and forward trends," said Delta Vacations president John Caldwell. "Our customers are really enjoying their vacations in Mexico and have not reported any concerns or issues while in destination."

Apple Leisure Group CEO Alex Zozaya admitted he's monitoring the situation with some concern, but he said that bookings for the company's Apple Vacations, Travel Impressions and CheapCaribbean brands are all showing they have increased sales to Mexico year over year and that they are "virtually not seeing any cancellations."

But, said Zozaya, "I'm concerned that if the current administration paints Mexico as one of the bad guys, people who want to support their president will say, 'I don't want to spend money down there, so I'm not going to go.'"

He also offered assurances that for those U.S. travelers worried about negative sentiments that Mexicans might be feeling toward them, "There is no resentment or bad feelings from Mexicans to the American people," Zozaya said. "There is clearly a bad feeling toward Donald Trump. If Donald Trump decides to go on vacation in Mexico, I wouldn't be surprised if someone yells something nasty at him."

On the other hand, some travel sellers said that concern over resentment and rising political tensions are causing a portion of their clients to book away from Mexico.

According to a survey conducted earlier this month of 166 of its members, MAST Travel Network reported that 8% said they had clients who had recently canceled trips to Mexico.

John Werner, president and COO of MAST, which counts Mexico as its No. 1 destination, said, "The intensifying issues of immigration, the border wall and trade are, in my view, going to cause some customers to think twice about a vacation in Mexico if they feel they are not welcome."

MAST also reported that 43% of its agents said clients have expressed concern about upcoming trips to Mexico, 52% have had customers say they don't want to go to Mexico when inquiring about a vacation, and 49% said clients have expressed concern about traveling anywhere outside of the U.S. at this time, not just to Mexico.

ASTA, too, has reported that some members have clients who expressed concern about traveling to Mexico.

Tracy Borden, owner of Walt's Dream Destinations, told ASTA that her agency is getting "numerous queries about the possibility of travel being impacted because of the wall."

Julie Imgrund, president of Bellevue Travel, has a client planning a spring break trip to Cancun in March. She told ASTA that the client told her that "her husband is freaking out because he's sure all Mexicans hate all Americans and they'll be in danger when they travel, so now he doesn't want to go. She has no qualms at all. So we talked for a long time so she had the information and the options to give him."

Ellen Paderson, CEO of Smiles and Miles Travel, has had clients cancel a trip to Mexico. They told her that "at the moment, they don't feel comfortable going to Mexico," she said, but they have never been to the country, something she believes was a factor in the cancellation based on other client activity.

"The people who have been going to Mexico don't seem to have a problem going to Mexico," she said. "They're not really nervous. They're not as concerned as people who have never been."

But while some agents are citing concerns and a possible impact on travel to Mexico, others are reporting just the opposite.

For example, host agency Travel Planners International said it had seen very few cancellations to Mexico in recent weeks, with some agents even reporting an increase in sales to Mexico, according to vice president of sales and marketing Jenn Lee.

When Lee posed a question to agents via a private Facebook group asking if they had experienced any cancellations for Mexico, she received 74 responses. The agents who responded were among Travel Planners International's top producers, she said, and only two said they had seen cancellations, while another handful reported clients asking for trips to areas other than Mexico.

Of those who have had clients with concerns about Mexico, most have arisen from their perceptions about what the attitude toward Americans in Mexico might be right now. Lee said agents have largely combatted those concerns by sharing narratives about their recent trips to the country or using examples of clients who have traveled there in recent weeks who haven't had any negative experiences.