Destination Focus: Mexico: Building Up Their Cruise Future

Concept drawing of the new terminal in GuaymasMexico is highly regarded and critically important to the cruise industry, despite a recent passenger tax passed by the country’s congress. At the October meeting of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) in Cozumel, port and tourism officials of this northernmost Latin American nation earned kudos for their professionalism, their awareness of what is needed in the marketplace and their collaborative spirit.

“They’re all here to do business. They’re not here to play, they’re not here to enjoy themselves or pat themselves on the back. They’re here to promote their destination and why it’s a much better place to visit,” said Tim Littley, manager of deployment and itinerary planning for Holland America Line.

As Mexico’s ports lobby for more business, the country’s legislators are trying to give municipalities a direct piece of the cruise pie. At press time, congress had just put through a 56 peso (about $5) head tax on disembarking cruise passengers. Beginning in June 2008, the tax, which the Mexico tourism ministry estimates will generate about $30 million annually, will be invested mostly in infrastructure projects and maintenance in cruise-ship communities, according to news reports.

Not all the ports agree with this tax. Although they are struggling to get cruise tourism accepted in their communities – Mazatlan, for instance, saw some of its expansion plans scuttled in a recent state election – they are loathe to take outside money for improvements. At the same time, they feel that the tax crimps their efforts to attract cruise tourism, which today has many more options than in the past as ports around the world open up.

But aside from this, cruise line executives who spoke to Cruise Industry News at the FCCA meeting on this island just south of Cancun were very impressed not only with Mexico’s level of service but also with its agility in bouncing back from disasters, most notably Hurricane Wilma, which leveled much of Cozumel’s facilities in 2005.

Mexico’s Pacific ports, although far from the Caribbean, were also represented. The Sea of Cortes ports are lobbying heavily for ships, and cruise executives took notice. These ports add a splash of diversity to itineraries, playing into a major theme of the conference: the need to differentiate each destination lest they start to merge in tourists’ minds.

Carnival Corporation Chairman and CEO Micky Arison, also chairman of the FCCA, was enthusiastic, saying, “We had representatives from virtually every region in Mexico today. We met for two-and-a-half hours. We really had a very, very good meeting, and I’m very encouraged that there’s a real desire to partner with the industry to build their business, which is great.”

Excerpted from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2007/2008

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