An Open Letter to the Mexican Tourism Board

To the Mexican Board of Tourism,

I’m writing to you in the hope that will you do something about a problem that has me worried.  I know I’m a gringo, but trust me, I love Mexico and I want her, and her people to prosper.

I’ve traveled and worked in your country for more than 20 years.  I’ve been in every major airport and quite a few of the smaller ones.  I’ve flown VivaAerobus, AeroMexico, Volaris and even the now defunct Mexicana, Aviacsa and Taesa.  I became a fan of Cantinflás movies on 40 hour bus rides and have taken more water taxi rides than I can count.  I’ve also logged more kilometers than can be counted in truck beds in some the smallest and least accessible pueblos in Mexico, places where tourists rarely go.

Each year I am responsible for bringing hundreds of tourists with me to visit Mexico.  I’ve facilitated groups in Baja California, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla, the Yucatan and Mexico City.

Through all of these travels and journeys, a similar problem keeps coming back to me like a bad nightmare.

In a country where tourism is vitally important to the economy, government, and many government employees seem to have an inability to understand the needs of travelers, and respond in a caring and efficient way.

I fear this may come back to haunt you.  In short, I believe that if you fail to address these very real issues, you are putting at risk millions of potential tourist dollars.

Let me explain.

Recently I visited Huatulco, a major project of Fonatur.  My experiences with every single private entity involved in the tourism business there were fantastic.  The taxi drivers were wonderful and the employees everywhere I visited, whether it was a large resort, or a small food stand, clearly wanted to help and make my stay memorable.  That is the good news.

The bad news is that when I interacted with government employees, it all went downhill.

On the day of my departure, as advised, I arrived two hours early for my return flight to the US.  I was all checked in by my airline, given my boarding passes and instructed where to find my gate.  As I got to the doors to enter the security line, they were not open.  I was told I had to wait outside until it was time to come in.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but I’ve experienced this countless times in smaller Mexican airports.  Fortunately, this won’t discourage me, but it was certainly maddening to the hundred or so other passengers who were forced to wait outside, sweating in the hot midday sun.

All of those tourists, many of whom had just spent thousands of dollars in your country, providing jobs for many of your citizens, were left confused by a bureaucracy that seemed to care less about them.  Their last impression of your country will not be of the great time they had at your fabulous resorts and beaches, but of being ignored by government employees at the airport.

I wonder if this will cause them not to return?

While this is a specific, perhaps isolated incident, unfortunately the underlying motivation is not.  In my over 20 years traveling in Mexico, I have learned that Federal employees, particularly those working in and around the tourism industry, see themselves more as gatekeepers of often capricious and unexplainable policies, rather than as people whose job it is to help and support the tourism industry.  The airport employee in Huatulco simply explained that we were not allowed to wait inside yet and our only option was to wait outside.

Here’s are a few more examples.

Seldom is there sufficient seating provided in the many airports and bus stations around Mexico for people waiting for their trip to begin.  This forces people, often waiting for hours for their flights and busses, to sit on the floor.  Except security people at these federal facilities will not permit it.  Why is that?  If you do not want people to sit on the floor, perhaps you could provide enough seats for people to use.

At one airport I recently used, there was no men’s room available in the baggage claim area.  When people asked the security personnel where the men’s room was located, they were directed outside of baggage claim into the general airport area.  When they tried to return to claim their bags, they were denied entry, because they had left the secure area.  What options did these people have?

My friends and I have visited many of the archeological sites in southern Mexico.  One of the things we love to do is take photos.  We take the same gear with us each time and yet, depending on where we are, sometimes that gear gets approved for entry, and other times, not.  Recently we visited Dzibilchaltun, near Merida.  When the authorities there saw our cameras, they refused to let us enter, saying our gear was professional and we would need to pay $800.00US to enter.  When we explained that the authorities at Monte Alban and Chichen Itza had no problems with our gear, their response was literally, “Ni modo, no somos ellos!”

All three of these examples clearly show security personnel doing their jobs, but at the same time, exasperating the very people that are helping drive the Mexican tourism industry, and provide jobs.  Is there no way to accomplish the security objectives of your government and foster a common sense approach to tourism that will not leave a sour taste in the mouths of visitors?

Mexico is a beautiful country.  Her architecture and ancient treasures are a marvel to behold.  The mix of the Pre-Hispanic history and the modern, side by side in many of your cities is incredible.

But if something is not done to reform how many everyday government employees who work in and around the tourism industry interact with visitors to your great country, I fear many will choose to take their hard earned tourist dollars elsewhere.

Teach and train your employees in this industry that they are ambassadors for Mexico.  Teach them that the phrase “Ni Modo” has no place when it comes to travel and tourism.  Give them the authority to make decisions, even wrong ones occasionally, without fear of losing their jobs.  Train them to look for ways to grant a travelers wish, rather than look for a reason to say no.  Most importantly, value these front line employees and train them to understand how vital they are to improving the image of Mexico abroad and the economy.

Finally, remember that both the first and last encounter a visitor has in Mexico will be with one of your employees.  Don’t let the impressions someone gets from those meetings be one that detracts from what will be, or what has been a fantastic vacation.

If you want to contact me, schedule a meeting or whatever, I’m here.  This is too important for all of us who love Mexico to neglect.

Atte,

Dave Miller, DaveMillersMexico.com

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