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Cablegate: Tourism Under Secretary Talks Open Skies,

VZCZCXRO4676
PP RUEHCD RUEHGD RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL RUEHRD RUEHRS RUEHTM
DE RUEHME #4917/01 2542158
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 112158Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8833
INFO RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/CDR USNORTHCOM PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RULSDMK/TRANSPORTATION DEPT WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAHLA/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MEXICO 004917

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/MEX, WHA/EPSC, EEB/TRA/AN AND DRL/AWH
USDOC FOR 4320/ITA/MAC/WHA/ONAFTA/GERI WORD
TREASURY FOR IA (ALICE FAIBISHENKO)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EIND EAIR ELAB PGOV MX
SUBJECT: TOURISM UNDER SECRETARY TALKS OPEN SKIES,
HURRICANES, AND ALTERNATIVE TOURISM


Summary and Introduction
------------------------

1. (SBU) On September 10, EconCouns and EconOff met with
Mexican Undersecretary for Tourism Operation, Francisco
Madrid Flores, and Director General of Regional Programs,
Juan Carlos Arnau Avila. When Econoffs noted the benefits of
a U.S.-Mexico open skies deal Flores said pre-clearance for
passengers at Cancun would go further in increasing the
number of tourists to Mexico than an open skies agreement.
He noted the Secretariat of Tourism SECTUR) had developed a
strategy to prepare the industry for the next major
hurricane. He also described how, as part of President
Calderon's National Development Plan, the National Tourism
Program seeks to increase alternative tourism.

We Say Open Skies, They Say Pre-Clearance
-----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Responding to EconCouns suggestion that a
U.S.-Mexico open skies deal could spur tourist arrivals,
Flores said that Mexico does not need open skies to
facilitate air travel for tourists. Major tourism
destinations have a sufficient number of flights, and the
Mexican government is open to designating additional city
pairs when necessary. He countered that having a U.S.
Customs and Immigration pre-clearance facilities in Mexico,
specifically in Cancun, would help increase tourist arrivals
much more than an open skies agreement. (Note: Embassy has
previously submitted a diplomatic note detailing all the
requirements necessary to move forward with pre-clearance
discussions. The GOM has not responded to the diplomatic
note, and further discussions await Mexico's response.)

Hurricane Preparedness
----------------------

3. (U) Flores explained that following the 1985 earthquake,
the government of Mexico (GOM) decided to focus on
prevention, in dealing with large disaster scenarios to avoid
the casualties and destruction that occur when governments
are left unprepared. The GOM created a national system of
civil protection groups to manage disaster relief efforts and
ensure that all pertinent federal and local agencies are
aware of disaster plans. The hurricane group is under the
auspices of the Secretary of the Interior and meets to
discuss plans of actions depending on the predictions for any
incoming storm. SECTUR is a member of the hurricane group and
has a position that varies depending on the possible effect
on tourism.

4. (U) Flores admitted that SECTUR does not have local
offices and is limited in what it can do on the ground in the
event of a hurricane. The main function of SECTUR's
participation in the hurricane group is to disseminate
information to the tourism industry. They also work closely
with the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation to
stop air passengers from arriving and encourage evacuation.
Flores said that this was a lesson learned from previous
hurricanes where airlines continued to bring in passengers or
stopped outgoing flights stranding evacuating passengers.

5. (U) Flores explained that SECTUR runs training programs to
assist members of the tourism industry in preparing for a
hurricane and keeps abreast of private company plans.
SECTUR has also helped to organize programs for tourists in
effected regions. For example, in the event of a storm in
the southern Yucatan, guests will be able to board
pre-contracted buses to vacant hotel rooms in the northern
Yucatan, and vice versa. Additionally, the Chief of Staff's
office in SECTUR, along with the Secretariat of Foreign
Relations, is in charge of communicating with foreign
embassies to provide information. This linkage is important
because, despite evacuations, some tourists will remain in
affected areas. Flores said that European tourists stranded
in the event of a hurricane presented the most difficult
challenge because long flight times mean that changes to
flight plans were difficult and tourists could arrive to find
a situation much worse than expected at departure from their

MEXICO 00004917 002 OF 002


home countries.

6. (U) Flores stressed that the GOM is prepared for this, and
future hurricane seasons. He believed SECTUR had gained
credibility over the years and tourism companies listened to
and abided by plans of action when announced, including
requests for evacuations and closures. Cancun hotels
specifically were well prepared and have successfully taken
care of tourists, including during 2005's hurricane Wilma
where the long duration of the storm challenged the viability
of even the most well laid pre-storm plans. According to
Flores, hurricanes Wilma and Dean and west coast tropical
storm Henriette have all been recent tests of preparedness
that the country has, for the most part, successfully passed.


Tourism Diversification
-----------------------

7. (U) Mexico's tourism industry is diversifying. Though
Mexico has generally been viewed as a "sun and beach"
destination despite its rich cultural and ecological
heritage, the GOM is trying to encourage investment in
colonial areas and natural parks to attract "alternative
tourism." There are 14 government agencies that are involved
in "rural tourism" and part of SECTUR's current drive is to
unite these agencies to develop infrastructure and promote
these locations as alternative to the beach.

8. (U) Promoting alternative tourism is also a key component
in President Calderon's National Development Plan (NDP).
Tourism diversification will feature prominently in the
National Tourism Program, due to be released in mid-to-late
November. Small and medium size companies involved in
cultural and environmental tourism provide needed employment
in underdeveloped regions, especially the South and help
"maintain the atmosphere" that is vital for successful
alternative tourism. At the same time, new job creation in
the tourism industry is cheap compared to other industries. A
new job in the Mexican tourism industry costs between
15,000-20,000 USD of investment while a new job in
manufacturing could costs 5-10 times as much.

9. (U) The GOM assists small companies using a three-part
program. SECTUR promotes company professionalization by
teaching customer service skills and providing consultants to
help the companies develop. They also help locating public
and private financing for the firms. Additionally, the GOM
facilitates the opening of new small tourism businesses by
streamlining the approval processes to as little 72 hours.

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) While we were disappointed by Flores' dismissal of
the benefits of open skies, the proposed sale of Aeromexico,
the remaining state-owned airline, may provide an opening for
more active Embassy advocacy. SECTUR and the GOM do appear
prepared to help achieve President Calderon's desire to make
Mexico one of the 6 major tourism destinations by the end of
his sexenio. While that goal is nearly impossible given the
other priorities that the Calderon administration must
handle, an increase in alternative tourism will help the
mostly poor Mexicans who live in off-the-beaten-path
locations that are perfect for this type of tourism
development.


Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /
GARZA

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