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Where have all the edecanes gone? Acapulco tones down its annual booze-laced Tianguis fair to talk turkey on tourism. (Conference Roundup).

ACAPULCO--Once known principally for its dazzling array of edecanes (hostesses) and mind-numbing cocktail hours, "Tianguis," the world-famous tourism fair held annually in Acapulco, has sharpened its image and, the industry hopes, its claws.

Nicknamed "Pachanguis" (party time) in the 1990s for its four-day offering of hell-raising, boozy, slap-and-tickle fun for all, Latin America's largest tourism industry event is no longer just a party associated with philandering businessmen.

Wrapping up on April 2, the 28th Tianguis turistico was marked more by hard statistics than free margaritas. Instead of shaggy-haired journalists hiccupping on the phone and company directors eyeing attractive female figures, men and women alike were actively identifying problems, strategies and new markets for the nation's third-largest industry.

Tourism Secretary Leticia Navarro was a strong presence, delving into tough topics such as how to conduct sensitive tourism promotion in the United States while Mexico's northern neighbor is at war. Maria Elena Mancha, director of Mexico's Tourist Promotion Board, presented "Tianguis Online," an interactive space for buyers and sellers, extending the events' services beyond the traditional four hectic days.

Technological innovations were omnipresent, along with new systems to measure productivity and follow up business appointments. Ten seminars and numerous press conferences were coordinated with few setbacks, and National Trust for the Development of Tourism (Fonatur) CEO John McCarthy signed an agreement to develop Acapulco and the Coyuca de Benitez area over the next 25 years.

In President Fox's virtual speech at the event's closing, he emphasized that Mexico is the world's eighth most popular tourist destination, with the tourism sector generating more than 8% of the nation's GDP. Tourism is Mexico's third largest moneymaker and accounts for nearly 6% of the country's total employment.

"Last year, national tourism generated US$62 billion, while US$9 billion came into the country from international tourism, an increase of 6% over 2001 and a new record," Fox said. However, jitters about the Iraq war seemed apparent, as many reserved seats were conspicuously empty despite official statements that there had been no cancellations.

For others, a visibly leaner Tianguis was merely a sign of increased modernization and professionalism. There were fewer eager faces hanging out for freebies, and more participants attending only those events pertinent to their particular field.

In addition, the new concept of Tianguis online, which offers a registry of wholesalers, travel agents and service providers, may have reduced some tourism professionals' need to attend the event, although Mancha denied the interactive Web site would make the springtime fair obsolete.

"Tourism is a human industry--an industry of peace and of human contact, for which there is no substitute. So I am confident that people will still come," she said. According to official statistics, this year's Tianguis showed an increase from 2002 of 35% in business appointments made between tourism players, with 16,500 appointments over the course of the government-sponsored event.

Cabinet member Navarro admitted the tourism industry could suffer a revenue decline due to the war in Iraq, but Fox touted the nation's image as a safe tourist destination and predicted fear of travel could even be beneficial for Mexico.

"Many tourists are reducing the distance of their travels and choosing destinations that are closer and safer," he said. "For our North American friends, for example, today Mexican destinations are closer than ever."

Although the atmosphere was more professional this year, the fanfare and gimmicks characteristic of years past were still visible. The most aggressively eye-catching edecanes--a buff pair of women decked out in teeny white shorts by day and tiger-print micro-skirts by night--were well over the top, and they seemed to embody the girl-as-decoration anachronism so prevalent in Mexico.

Among the more conservative offerings, Quintana Roo should be recognized for best gastronomical concoction with "Shrimp Xtabentun" (sauteed in a honey liqueur particular to the region), while Michoacan stood apart for the best promotional gift--an exquisite Monarch butterfly brooch that every woman seemed to want. The host city of Acapulco also distinguished itself for its unique blend of nostalgia and joie de vivre, with just a hint of decadence.
Checking in

Top Beach Spots Tourist arrivals (in thousands)
 Nationals Foreigners

1995 1406 375
1996 1557 337
1997 1513 346
1998 1662 236
1999 3665 561
2000 1777 401
2001 1780 417

1995 489 1666
1996 473 1833
1997 554 2086
1998 647 2005
1999 747 2072
2000 789 2254
2001 808 2178

Ixtapa Zihuatanejo
1995 230 122
1996 257 158
1997 232 165
1998 211 152
1999 209 140
2000 248 144
2001 284 128

Los Cabos
1995 59 390
1996 69 479
1997 80 595
1998 80 392
1999 78 442
2000 82 464
2001 not available not available

Puerto Vallarta
1995 468 362
1996 387 490
1997 404 531
1998 453 510
999 514 586
2000 510 873
2001 669 534

Source: Tourism Secretariat

Barbara Kastelein writes about Mexico travel and tourism for Fodor's Travel Publications, Conde Nast Traveller (UK) and the Sunday Express newspaper of London.
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Title Annotation:annual tourism fair Acapulco
Author:Kastelein, Barbara
Publication:Business Mexico
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:May 1, 2003
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