Miguel Torruco: Our top priority was to turn the tourism policy around
MEXICO’S FAST-PACED REBOUND ON THE HEELS OF THE ECONOMIC SLUMP TRIGGERED BY THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, EVENTUALLY CATAPULTED THE NATION TO BE ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOP THREE TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
BY: EXCELENCIAS PHOTOS: GOVERNMENT OF MÉXICO
Q & A
Anew wind is blowing through Mexico. Renovation, innovation, rescue... These are concepts that cut across the policies in place to generate further growth in the tourism sector in a country that's already ranked among the top destinations in Ibero-america. Cndescucha, a program directed and hosted by Jose Carlos de Santiago, president of the Excelencias Group, along with tourism journalist Armando de la Garza, recently had the pleasure of having Miguel Torruco Marques, Mexico's Secretary of Tourism, who talked for more than 40 minutes about the major projects being promoted by his cabinet. Mexico is the country with the highest number of applications to the Excelencias Awards. In 2021, 668 of the more than 2,300 applications were submitted. It's also a leading country in the movement of tourists and during the first two years of the pandemic it had a great flow. I am not surprised that Mexico is one of the nations that have had more applications, because it is estimated that, with the pandemic, the country advanced more than eight years in technology as part of a phenomenon that occurred mainly among families and businessmen. On the other hand, on March 11  we were ready for the 45th edition of our Tianguis Turístico, to be held for the first time in the city of Mérida, in the beautiful state of Yucatán. We were about to break records in attendance with business appointments, when suddenly we woke up with the shock of ice water that the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At that moment, the first thing we did was to go to the meeting with the President of the Republic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who ordered not to restrict international flights and that the Ministry of Tourism in coordination with the Ministry of Health should make the bio-sanitary protocols, which resulted in being the first country to obtain them. The next and third great point was that we were the only nation that did not cancel the International Tourism Fair. We innovated with the digital Tianguis. Due to the President's austerity policy, we also had the resources to set aside vaccines from the five pharmaceutical companies, which accelerated vaccination. According to data from the World Tourism Organization (WTO), due to the pandemic, the world had a 73% contraction. The 20 countries that compete with Mexico in terms of foreign exchange, which is where a nation's tourism potential is measured, had a drop of 82 to 88%, while our country's drop was 46%. It is obvious that the recovery is faster and that, in a conjunctural way, catapulted us to the third position worldwide in 2020, only below France and Italy, and in 2021 to surpass Italy, although we are still below France. After having had a very successful first half of 2022 in terms of tourism and a very encouraging summer, I can assert that at the end of this year we will attract 24 million 300 thousand tourists, which is 6.0 points below 2019. In terms of foreign exchange, we will close the year with 26,121 million dollars, which is 6.3 points above 2019. In terms of foreign investment we surpassed the historical record of 2017. Will the decrease in the number of tourists with respect to 2019 be somehow related to the increase in the price of travel tickets from Europe to Mexico? Actually, the tourist potential of a country is not measured by the number of people, but by foreign currency. This does not make us nervous, because it means that our product has improved and has responded more to the consumer's expectations. They come less, but they spend more. Average spending has increased. In 2018 when this servant arrived at the Ministry of Tourism, I asked what the budget was from 2012 to 2018: 54 billion pesos, which were divided into the Tourism Promotion Council, the National Fund for Tourism Development, and the Ministry of Tourism. With 41.2 million tourists we were ranked 7th according to the UNWTO; but in terms of foreign exchange we were in 17th place and if we look at per capita spending at the end of that year we were positioned in 40th place. So, in the new policy of the new government of the 4th transformation, it was a priority to revolutionize tourism policy in order to reposition ourselves in the international arena, and to achieve this we had to conceive and integrate new products. Construction began on the Mayan Train, a 1,524 km railway line, with 20 stations, a route to appreciate 190 high impact attractions that will benefit Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas. There is the transisthmian train, a new economic corridor that will save more than six days of passage through the Panama Canal. A very important success was to consolidate what was already in place. Generally, works were carried out, governments changed and left everything half done. For example, it has taken more than 13 years to build the highway from Oaxaca to the coast, which will be finished in the next few months. Airports are also being expanded and modernized in Puerto Escondido, Chetumal, the Copper Barracks and in Nayarit, where the highway from Compostela to Puerto Vallarta will be completed. After 100 years, the Zaragoza canal will be ready, and San Blas will be renovated as a magical town, with a new pier and a new ferry that will go to Islas María, the Mexican Alcatraz. Mazatlan will also complete in March the largest aquarium in Latin America. There are two fundamental points in the tourist development of this mandate: road tourism, which has also served to make Mexicans know their own country; and gastronomy. What does it mean for the Mexican State to have cities that can be declared capitals of Ibero-american gastronomy? Here come two questions, one about domestic tourism and the other about gastronomy. Domestic tourism represents 82% of the national tourist movement. Such a large movement represents 142 billion dollars, when domestic tourism is giving us, in 2022, some 26,121 billion dollars. That is why we have paid a lot of attention to domestic tourism. We also have our Green Angels, units that provide tourist information and are unique in the world. We have just launched the Biosatellite Intelligence Center, which allows us to locate our units in real time throughout the country. In the case of the other question, indeed, in order for Mexican gastronomy to have the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity , we first had to go through a regional cuisine. Our good friends from Michoacán made an incredible effort and achieved that recognition with UNESCO. The program that you are carrying out with such serious institutions, so professional and that already recognized the city of Guanajuato [Ibero-american Capital of Gastronomic Culture, a condition granted in 2015 by the Ibero-american Academy of Gastronomy], and now you are thinking of recognizing the city of Puebla, is an added value that will serve to include it in our marketing strategy as a fundamental attraction. How have flights to Mexico fared this year? Passengers on international flights to Mexico, from January to July 2022, already traveled 14 million 502 thousand. This year in international flight seats we already have 28% more than in 2021. From the North American region there are 24 million 285 thousand 700 seats, which is 36% of the total. In the case of airlines, American Airlines represents 15.3%, Aeromexico 12.4% and United 11.2%. The busiest airports were Cancun, Cancun, Mexico City and Guadalajara, which between them handled more than 23 million seats, or 73.5% of the total. The busiest and most successful international routes to Mexico are Dallas-cancun, Huston-mexico City and Los Angeles-guadalajara. Are there any routes that from the Ministry of Tourism's point of view should be marked as exceptional to be promoted and visited in Mexico? Well, for 36 years we have been talking about the Mayan World, there are organizations, meetings..., but there was no air connectivity. Without connectivity there is no tourism. For the first time we broke this perverse circle and we launched several flights that will integrate the Mayan World. Now, at the meeting of Mundo Maya countries, I invited them to join us at the 47th edition of the Tianguis Turístico in Mexico City. There you will see our colleagues from Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador selling the Maya World as a whole, which will be an act of exchange and communication so that the person who has the privilege of being in any of these countries can also have access to regional packages that are part of a response to the new tourist profile. The tourist wants to have more with the same effort of the same travel displacement. So we have to adapt to the new tourist profile, both domestic and international, and above all maintain the bio-sanitary protocols because this will be neither the first nor the last pandemic. The world is more prepared to face other contingencies.