2008 The Americas Competitiveness Forum – Global Tourism Market Report

By Lee Armstrong, GPS-Magazine
August 18 – Atlanta, GA -  Three South American Presidents, US corporate icons, and hundreds of South American and North American government officials and business leaders representing trade, industry, and tourism offices convened in Atlanta, GA for the second annual The Americas Competitiveness Forum, an advocacy to promote prosperity and economic opportunity.

ACF provides a venue for government ministers from the Western Hemisphere to come together with leaders from the private sector, academia, and non-governmental organizations, to explore innovative ideas and practices in specific areas of competitiveness, to develop new avenues for economic prosperity in the region.

Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez - Americas Competitiveness Forum

Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez - Americas Competitiveness Forum

The upbeat atmosphere was punctuated with the flurry of successful cross-continent networking for business and tourism development.

Jeff Senior, V-P of Marketing and Sales for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts noted that their next opportunity for growth is South America.

Dawn Drew, V-P and Publisher, National Geographic Traveler magazine, framed the importance of countries funding advertising and marketing efforts to  promote their tourism industry.  Her experience has proven that educated and informed consumers gravitate towards affordable, sustainable travel.

His Excellency Alvaro Uribe Velez, President of the Republic of Colombia, His Excellency Elias Antonio Saca Gonzales, President of the Republic of El Salvador, and His Excellency Alvaro Colom Caballeros, President of the Republic of Guatemala offered frank and compelling rational for business development in their countries.

Columbia – His Excellency Alvaro Uribe Velez, President of the Republic of Colombia

The dynamic President Uribe of the Republic of Columbia presented a persuasive pitch for luring tourism to his country. Uribe, obviously driven to create economic prosperity via the development of tourism and industry; readily acknowledged that their first priority was to make Columbia a safe destination.

President Uribe highlighted a comprehensive government initiative to court industry and tourism. The Columbian government introduced a series of zero (0) taxes for foreign development and expansion of hotels.  Consequently, Columbia is enjoying the advent of tens of thousands of new hotel rooms and building development.

The country launched tourism schools to instruct their citizens in graces of the industry and in serving a variety of cultures.  A bilingual system has been integrated in Columbia’s service industry enabling taxi drivers, hoteliers, and servers to communicate in simple, conversational English and foreign phrases.

The government is stimulating airline and transportation connectivity to Columbia between other countries.  A new route from Bogata to Washington, DC has been established with non-stop flights.  President Uribe said the new hotels and infrastructure represented the “hardware” to build the tourism industry and equated their citizens to the valuable “software” for Columbia’s tourism success.  Columbia offers a skilled work force for building coupled with the comprehensive government initiative to effect change.

President Uribe is working aggressively to influence foreign embassies to update their travel advisories.  His marketing efforts have had a positive impact on foreign travel advisories for Columbia.  The more progressive embassies have updated their safety reports on the popular Columbian destinations.

US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez & forum attendees

US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez & forum attendees

Columbia proudly announced the addition of a Minister of Tourism, owing to their success in solving some of Columbia’s image issues.  Noting Columbia’s past pervasive safety concerns, Uribe acknowledged that previously his government could not, in clear conscience, invite international tourist to vacation in beautiful Columbia when the safety of their own citizens was undermined in areas.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of President Uribe to rid the country of drug trafficking and his marketing drive to change Columbia’s image, the country is making great strides as an emerging destination for exotic travel.  Uribe compared Columbia’s current tourism expansion situation to Cambodia, another beautiful travel destination that overcame a controversial past to achieve prosperity through tourism.

The world’s past perceptions of Columbia will quickly change with President Uribe’s tenacious marketing and concerted efforts to compete in the global market.

President Uribe remarked, “While Columbia has changed for the better, we are not ‘perfect’.  Yet, Columbia is very fortunate that the government and the people are working together to close the gap between the former image and the reality of our new positive image.”  He added, “If you want to see and experience the Caribbean, Pre-Columbian culture, indigenous cultures, Andean Mountains, Amazon rain forest, great European influence and beautiful colonial architecture, as well as cosmopolitan cities, then go to Columbia where you can experience it all in one place.”

This smart, new ‘reality’ puts Columbia on an upward trajectory for success in global tourism, trade and industry.

Mexico – Rodolfo Elizondo Torres, Secretary of Tourism, Mexico

Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism approached the podium and pronounced that “Mexico Gets Tourism”.  It seems that they, indeed, do.

A tourism website, www.VisitMexico.com was recently launched, instantly generating interest in Mexican destinations. Mexico is expanding their former marketing campaigns touting “sun & beaches” to include promotions of other valuable destinations offering culture, food, music, and Mayan history.

Ten excellent golf courses have been built and residential real estate in Mexico has grown significantly due to the growth of the second home market.  Hotel room sales are another area of extensive growth.

40% of tourist entering Mexico do so to vacation in Cancun.  Elizondo wants to expand their options by offering tourist ‘products’ similar to Europe.

The Mexican government is creating legislation that provides laws favorable to foreign land investments and making land ownership in Mexico safe.

Mexico is developing urban areas and infrastructure balanced with the preservation of nature and their historic areas.

Technology and the World Wide Web has opened up a new world for Mexico’s tourism and economic development.  The government strives to facilitate travel to Mexico with their website information and online immigration application process.

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