NPI is proud to announce the release of a new report Realizing the Full Value of Tourism from Mexico to the United States. The full report can be read here, and it comes just in time to help inform a recent Presidential executive order designed to significantly increase travel and tourism in the United States. As the United States looks to increase domestic tourism, increasing tourism from Mexico should be a major priority for our new national strategy. Consider the following key challenges, opportunities and policy considerations.
While the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Interior are spearheading federal efforts to increase tourism, other agencies also have key roles to play with respect to Mexican tourism. This is particularly true of the Departments of State (Embassy and Consulates) and Homeland Security (land ports of entry). Five steps will go a long way toward unlocking the tremendous economic value “hidden in plain sight” represented by Mexican tourism.
1) Include Mexico together with China and Brazil as Commerce and Interior’s targets for tourism promotion. Mexico is a large (113 million), middle-income country with the 12th largest economy in the world. It is hosting the G-20 conference this year and is an economic powerhouse in its own right. While the country currently ranks second in terms of visits to the U.S. and the fourth highest tourism expenditures of any other country, more needs to be done from a strategic approach with Mexico. The U.S. needs to make sure it is not unduly preventing law-abiding tourists
from enjoying its many attractions and tourism products, and that visits from Mexico help to rebuild the nation’s economy following the Great Recession.
2) Actively promote the United States tourism product in Mexico. There is an overall consensus by tourism experts that there is certainly a latent demand for travel to the US by Mexicans. Yet while Mexico is to some degree a natural tourism market for our country, there is currently no significant and concerted effort on the part of the federal government to promote US tourism in Mexico. Promotional efforts in Mexico have historically been led by cities and states, and though Brand USA is just now getting under way, the partnership needs to move decisively and rapidly to turn Mexican tourists’ attention northward in the face of stiff global competition for Mexican visitors and expenditures, mostly from the European Union.
3) Revamp the processing of tourist visas in Mexico to make it fairer, faster and safer while maintaining security standards. Visa requirements are expensive, onerous, and often serve as a deterrent for Mexican visitors, effectively “leaving money on the table” for communities in the Southwestern United States and even in the interior. Mexican tourists can legally enter the United States after applying for and being granted a Border Crossing Card at either the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City or at one of several U.S. consulates located throughout Mexico. Curiously, neither Mexico nor Canada is part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which grants citizens from 36 different countries the right to enter the United States for a maximum of 90 days without a visa.
4) Upgrade border infrastructure and invest in more staff to operate them efficiently. If we are serious about not leaving money on the table, the upgrading of the dozens of ports of entry along the border with Mexico should be accelerated. With a multi-billion dollar deficit in border infrastructure, the various border regional master plans—led by the State Department and Mexico’s Foreign Ministry—need to give greater weight to upgrading northbound and southbound passenger vehicle and pedestrian crossings. This is clearly a win-win situation for both nations. This emphasis should include enhanced staffing, technology, infrastructure and communications.
5) Actively facilitate Mexican tourism environments at the land ports of entry. As the official U.S. gateways for Mexican tourists, much more can be done to assure that Mexican tourists receive a just, efficient, and courteous welcome to the United States of America. The new Ready Lanes at 5 our ports of entry are an excellent start, but more needs to be done to capitalize on the entire economic potential of tourism from Mexico.