Official warnings about travel to Mexico because of the H1N1 virus have been lifted. Cruise lines have returned to Mexican ports. And tourism officials are doing all they can to show meeting planners why Mexico belongs back on their short lists of meeting sites.
Consider, just for starters, that the World Health Organization booked a two-day summit in Cancun earlier this month. “Mexico is a safe, as well as a beautiful and warmly gracious, place to visit,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan said pointedly during the meeting, at which leaders from 50 countries discussed strategies to combat H1N1, a virus whose worldwide spread continues, though the number of cases in Mexico is now decreasing.
However, add the dramatic reaction to the initial outbreak of the virus in April to reports of escalating violence in Mexico related to the drug trade since then, and it is not hard to see why the Mexican tourism industry has been suffering.
“Mexico is going to have an uphill battle in gaining back attendees, but it’s definitely one that it can win, and has been working hard to do so,” says Eli Gorin, CMP, president of boutique meeting management firm gMeetings Inc., in Aventura, Fla.
Separate Fact From Hype
“What people tend to forget is that the news, while factual, can be very misleading,” notes Gorin, who has long experience taking U.S. groups to Mexico and other Latin American destinations. “Case in point is the issue of the drug cartels in Mexico. There is absolutely a big problem, but it’s for the most part in northern border towns. I remember receiving one newsletter from a partner in Cancun and he summed it up quite well with one question: ‘Would you not go to a meeting in Florida because of a problem with violence in Detroit?’
“People need to do a little more research of their own and connect with the local primary sources of information in the destination that they want to visit. I’m a firm believer that the partners in the destination being considered are not going to embellish or lie about the situation going on. To do so would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. It’s all about learning how to separate the fact from the hype. We need to educate ourselves better and in turn educate our clients and our attendees. Word of mouth plays a big part in how things change on a daily basis.”
Consider the Value
Besides which, Mexico, traditionally a value destination, is offering even greater deals now. According to Travelocity data, airfare from the United States to Mexico is down 28 percent from last summer. Hotel rates have been discounted, and some properties have even guaranteed that if an attendee gets sick with swine flu as a result of attending a meeting at the property, the meeting will be paid for by the hotel.
“The Mexico Tourism Board and Mexican convention and visitor bureaus are being very proactive in showing people that the value of Mexico as a destination for meetings, both financially as well as culturally, is still there and is waiting for people to come and experience it,” Gorin says. “Planners need to learn how to convey that message to their clients and meeting attendees. It’s about providing the facts and making real efforts to ease anyone’s fears.
“I recently did a program on International Risk/Crisis Planning at the Destinations Showcase in Chicago with a colleague of mine, Brad Goldberg, who is an expert in risk management. One of Brad’s best suggestions is to consider offering a webinar well in advance of the program, possibly during the early registration period, to present to potential attendees the facts, dispel the myths and rumors, and answer any questions they have.”
Mexican tourism officials have launched a Web site to keep planners and travelers updated with travel news and information, including the country’s extensive efforts to contain the H1N1 virus. Click here to get the very latest.