The below interview with Mexico City Tourism Minister Carlos Mackinley Grohmann was conducted during the third edition of the Fair International de Turismo de las Americas (International Tourism Fair of the Americas or FITA), held from September 20 to 21 in Mexico City, Mexico.
How long have you been in office and what is your experience in travel and tourism? I have a large experience in the private sector. I used to be a grounds tour operator and I was a tourist guide, too. So, I have that doubling experience. As an officer of the government of Mexico City, I have been working with the Ministry of Tourism for 10 to 11 years. As the tourism secretary, I have been in office for six months.
How important is FITA to Mexico City? This is a very important event for Mexico City not only in economic terms, but mostly in terms of image–how Mexico City has a new image, how Mexico City is doing very, very well in tourism. That is why we are hosting this event here. As you know, this event promotes Mexico City, the whole country and all the other countries [exhibiting during the expo]. We can now say that Mexico City is now part of the circle of big capitals that have hosted important international tourism affairs.
Mexico has been aggressive in hosting global travel and tourism events. Cancun was the host of this year’s World Travel & Tourism Americas Summit. What do you expect to achieve with FITA 2012? That forum in Cancun was more an academic one. It was the prívate sector and there [at the WTTC Summit in Cancun] but we showed there lots of experience of the big holdings, the big enterprises and the big destinations. Here [at FITA], it is more a business affair. We have more than 3,500 different buyers and we hope that they are doing well in their transactions.
What is the projected amount of business being transacted during the event? Maybe about US$10 million just for the people arriving here and more than US$15 million for all the installations here, so we are talking about US$25 million [in total business transactions].
You were very critical of the Ministry of Tourism in your speech, saying the country needs a stronger and more powerful one. Care to elaborate? We cannot see tourism as a unique, an industry that is working alone. In a country like Mexico, it has 110 million inhabitants and around 50 percent of them are under the line of poverty. We have to use tourism to try to eliminate those conditions. We have to use tourism in social terms. That is why I feel that Mexico, as a country, needs a more powerful Ministry of Tourism which will be able to help the different parts of the country that need tourism and need to develop it. Now, in this moment, they do not have a way to do it.
How do you assess Tourism Secretary Gloria Guevara´s performance? She has done her job very well. It is a pity that she just had two to two years and a half [as tourism secretary], but she is a woman who knows the sector very well and she has been a very important promoter of the whole country.
Tell me about Mexico City Tourism. Mexico City Tourism is amazing. We have four sites declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, we have six archeological sites, we have more than 1, 400 colonial buildings. Mexico City is one of the most modern and powerful cities in all of the continent. Tourism is doing very, very well here. We have more than 12 million people sleeping in our hotels each year and we have more than 10 million people coming back home to visit families and relatives.
What is the city´s bed capacity? We have about 49,000 rooms, so it is a very large capacity.
What is tourism’s contribution to the city’s economy? Around US$4 billion per year. It is one of the main industries of the city and represents more than 7 percent of the Gross National Product of the city. Mexico City Tourism employs 400,000 people with direct jobs and at least 600,000 people with indirect jobs. So, around one million Mexico City residents have some connection to tourism.
As a former tour guide, name me your top five must-visit places in Mexico City. First, Centro Historico, a historic site downtown with two or three things to do there. Museo Nacional de Antropologia, the National Museum of Anthropology, which is one of the best museums in the world in terms of history. The third one is the neighborhoods of San Angela and Culiacan at the south of the city. The fourth one is the Fourteen Gardens of Xochimilco. Fifth is the new neighborhood of Roma Condesa, where you can see a very nice urban tourist experience with gastronomy, art and culture.
What is your grand plan for Mexico City Tourism? Yes, we have lots of plans. One of which is to develop medical tourism. Mexico City has probably the most important hospital in the whole country. We know that each year, 1.6 million people leave the country for medical purposes. Mexico City is building a very large platform to serve those people.
Traffic is a bit of a problem here in Mexico City, how are you addressing it? We are trying to discover other means of mobilization. Promoting bikes, promoting eco-friendly cars, we trying to promote carpooling, and we have promoted a new subway line, which will be inaugurated in about a month. We have 11 subway lines now, transporting 5 million people a day. Mexico City is doing a lot in terms of mobility.
We can’t not talk about the violence caused by drug wars, as this is a big deterrent for tourist who otherwise would want to come to Mexico. What is your take on this issue? Lots of things I have to say. We have to make a large difference on what is happening in Mexico City and in different parts of the country. The violence of the drugs is located mostly in the northern parts of the country. Mexico City is completely isolated from that kind of violence. In addition, Mexico City has in place a very good security program for tourists and residents. Crimes in Mexico City have decreased a lot. Mexico City is now the safest city in the whole country, and we are very, very proud of this achievement. We are working hard to maintain this. We have around 15,000 cameras and a system to ensure the security of the people in the city.
That is a great message: tourists can come to Mexico City. Yes, they can come and they will be safe.
Who are your top visitors? Mexico City receives more than two million people from different countries each year. Fifty percent come from the United States, 30 percent from Europe, 13 percent from Latin America, 1 or 2 percent from Asia. Americans and Canadians are our main markets.
How are you tackling the BRIC countries? We have efforts with three countries. We have good results with Brazil and Russia. With China, we have some difficulties. As you know, we don’t have a direct flight and we have completely addressed the visa issue., but we are working on that direction. I think China will be an important market for Mexico and Mexico City in a matter of a year. As of now, we have good results with Brazil and Russia.
Does your government have an open-sky policy with these countries? Not an open-sky policy, but we are working with the federal government to do that.
A speaker in one of the conferences held here at FITA (named Silvia Hernandez) argued that Mexico should stop marketing itself as a sun and beach destination. How do you respond to her comments? Silvia Hernandez says that the promotion of Mexico was always done around the sun and beach. Now we have to promote the colonials parts, the urban cities, and that is a nice and interesting message from Silvia Hernandez. She knows a lot about tourism, so we are working with her. We agree with her.
What is Mexico City’s message to the world? If you want to discover a vibrant city, if you want to discover a cultural city, if you want to discover a city that can show you pre-Hispanic ruins and colonial buildings, and one of the most modern cities, you have to come to Mexico City. If you want to taste the best gastronomy in the whole country, you have to come to Mexico City. If it is congress and meetings you are looking for, you will be very well received in Mexico City.