Mexico City still welcomes US travellers after Trump victory
By James Brewer
After president-elect Donald Trump made his campaign threat to deport “illegal immigrants” to Mexico, it has been revealed that the number of US citizens travelling in the very same southerly direction, for vacations in the neighbouring country, is at record levels.
Future relations between Washington and Mexico have been thrust into uncertainty by Mr Trump’s rhetoric. President Enrique Peña Nieto quickly congratulated the victorious billionaire and said he was willing to work with him in favour of the bilateral relationship. Mr Peña Nieto had previously reacted angrily to Mr Trump’s insulting characterisation of Mexican people and his threat to build a “big, beautiful wall” to keep out immigrants.
Mexico is meanwhile getting ready to strengthen its efforts in markets other than the US, in the event that Washington decides to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, and that this and other policy changes impact the valuable earnings the country gets from holidaymakers.
Magda Sánchez, director of major events for Mexico City, was questioned in London about how her country would react to any reduction in US tourist traffic. She had made an enthusiastic presentation at the World Travel Market 2016 about the overall tourism prospects for her city a few hours after the election result was declared.
Ms Sánchez said that the US and Canada were the city’s two principal markets, and the third was the UK: the British market to the federal capital grew more than 54% in the last three years.
She said: “The reality is that tourism is part of a bigger industry that is called trade, and I think it is going to be a challenge. He will need to work a lot to make the US great again [one of Mr Trump’s slogans is Make America Great Again] and particularly if he wants to bring more investment and growth” he would need to engage.
It was important to participate with other countries in trade shows and exhibitions. “We need to grow new markets. We have a lot of trade agreements with Europe especially. We are working a lot with other markets,” said Ms Sánchez. “This is why we are here [at the World Travel Market in London]”.
The number of US visitors to Mexico City has risen significantly every year: in 2012 the figure was 885,000; in 2013 it was 981,000; in 2014 it was 1.06m; and in 2015 there was another jump, to 1.29m. In the first eight months of 2016 alone, the figure was 1.03m, indicating that 2016 as a whole will see the achievement of yet another peak. Even more visitors head for Acapulco, Cancún and other large coastal resorts.
The New York Times in January named Mexico City number one in its list of “the 52 places to go in 2016,” calling it “a metropolis that has it all.” The paper said that this top destination was attracting travellers “seeking some of the world’s best cuisine, museums and forward-thinking design.” Its writer claimed that there was no more exciting place to eat, and on tourist security commented: “Of course, there are places you should not wander but the city is far safer than it was in the 1990s, and taxi services like Uber and Yaxi make getting around a lot more comfortable.”
One journalist attending the presentation by Ms Sánchez said that he lived in California and spent much of each year in Mexico, and never had the slightest cause to worry about his personal safety.
The country receives 13m visitors a year and the capital’s airport is the largest in Latin America in terms of day to day operations, handling more than 150 direct flights from all over the world. These include six flights a week from London. At the beginning of 2016 Air France introduced an Airbus 380 service carrying more than 500 passengers on each flight.
Mexico City’s airport is a hub for reaching other Latin American regions, so “we are working to encourage visitors to stay in Mexico,” said Ms Sánchez.
Hotel room occupancy rates in the capital are growing, and projects are underway to add to the 53,000 hotel rooms and the “huge” number of properties under the Airbnb branding.
Mexico City claims to have the most museums of any city in the world, more than 180, and the events director added that it boasted a huge variety of entertainment and nightlife.
Population of the city – which is served by the largest metro network in Latin America – is 9m, and of the region 22m.
Analysts hope that once Mr Trump assumes office, he will take a calmer approach to bilateral relationships and be restrained even by some of his allies in Congress, especially as the economy of his nation is intertwined on many levels with that of Mexico.