by Erika Wiggins, The Active Explorer
Adrenaline junkies are in good company. The president of Mexico enjoys rappelling deep into the Cave of Swallows, diving underwater caves, and other adventure sports. But that’s just one of many facts I learned last week.
Mexico stepped into the tourism spotlight May 16-18, 2012, hosting the first World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Americas Summit in Riviera Maya. The event featured speakers including the President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, actor/producer Robert Redford, Carlos Slim (the richest man in the world), CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg, and a list of industry CEOs and dignitaries too long to name. The objective of the event was to foster communication among public and private sectors within the tourism industry throughout the Americas.
For me, the conference was a crash course in the business and politics of global tourism taught by the top players in the industry. However, one facet of the conference really impressed me, Mexico’s commitment to tourism.
Tourism accounts for 9 percent of Mexico’s GDP and the country’s commitment to the industry originates from the highest level, President Calderón. And Calderón isn’t timid. During the summit, he addressed head-on Mexico’s security concerns, and Mexico’s efforts to alleviate them through investments in education, law enforcement, infrastructure and economic development. During a welcome dinner held directly on the beach at the beautiful Grand Velas resort, Calderón described Mexico’s citizens as “genetically prepared to receive visitors,” and committed the support of Mexico’s government to make Mexico a worldwide destination.
Sustainability is also a priority to Calderón’s administration, they realize sustainability is crucial not just to the environment, but to the tourism industry, which provides over 2.5 million Mexican jobs. Today, mangroves are preserved by local resorts, windmills spin just outside of Cancun, and in 2011, the Maykoba resort in the Rivera Maya, was recognized for commitment to sustainable tourism by the Rainforest Alliance. “Today, Mayakoba’s mangrove is the healthiest mangrove in the world,” stated Andrés Pan de Soraluce Muguiro, president of OHL Developments, which designed the Mayakoba.
However, none of these facts and statistics give travelers a true feel for the Mexican vibe, so four of us piled into a cab where my friend Lisa Coleman of Mexico Premiere, asked the driver to “drop us wherever he would take his mother for a cheap dinner.” He delivered us to a local joint called El Fogón, located on a side street of Playa del Carmen. We had a mouth-burning, decadent meal of
tacos al pastor, tacos made with roasted pork marinated in chilies and pineapple juice, washed down with strong margaritas. From there, we wandered down to 5th Avenue for another drink and little people watching. Not once did we feel unsafe. The people were friendly and nearly all spoke English (although I preferred to exercise my Spanish). We felt welcome.
By the closing of the WTTC Americas Summit, there was little doubt that the event was a step forward for tourism in the all of the Americas. In particular, the Mexican government demonstrated its commitment to the industry, which bodes well for travelers enchanted by the country’s natural beauty, cuisine, and archeological treasures.
Back at home in Florida, I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Mexico. For inspiration, I’m watching the trailer for “Mexico: A Royal Tour”, a video produced by CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenburg in which he and President Calderón explore Mexico’s adventurous side. Now THAT is right up my alley!