By Ange Wallace
President Felipe Calderon of the United States of Mexico spoke to an audience of 500 Virtuoso members and suppliers at the St Regis Hotel in Mexico City last Friday. Calderon, though educated at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, spoke to his mostly English speaking audience in Spanish, while almost one hundred members of the press recorded and reported on his talk. Word has it that Calderon rarely speaks longer than 15 minutes to such an audience and almost never takes questions.
Calderon seized the opportunity to address the gathering of elite travel industry advisers attending Virtuoso’s International Symposium by speaking longer than 40 minutes and actually taking a few questions. Most of the audience wore head sets carrying a translation of the President’s words.
Amelia Island was represented on the occasion by Ange Wallace of The Travel Agency . Seated on the third row for the presentation, she was impressed with the sincerity and candidness of Calderon’s delivery. The President told the industry representatives that Mexico planned to allow those with US visas to pass automatically through customs and immigrations when visiting Mexico. He also announced that the government is investing $50 billion annually in the county’s infrastructure to bolster tourism, a very key part of the Mexican economy. The President spoke of the wonderful diversity of Mexico both culturally and geographically. The eco-tourism available in Mexico from the whales in the Sea of Cortez to the monarch butterflies migrating to the forests of Culiacan also received special attention in the talk as did an ongoing archeological exploration to open a tomb discovered right in Mexico City and believed to be the burial place of one of the last Aztec leaders.
During the question and answer period, Calderon addressed the perception and concern that Mexico is not a safe destination for tourists head on. The Mexican president assured his audience and the press that the incidence of violence within the borders of Mexico are mostly drug related with little affect on tourists or even the majority of Mexicans. As he described it, the problems in Mexico resemble that of the occasional drive by shootings we read about all too often right here in Jacksonville. Mrs. Wallace said that, while as in any large city, there were safety recommendations and areas to avoid, yet at no time did she or any of the travel professionals from around the world attending the Virtuoso Symposium, feel uncomfortable or unsafe in Mexico City.
President Calderon sees the travel industry as a major economic pillar under Mexico’s economy, which he shows this week (April 25-28) by officially opening the annual Tianguis Turistico in Acapulco, the city recently hit with another major drug incident.
Editor’s Note: I compared President Calderon’s claim that with 11.6 homicides per 100,000 residents, the homicide rate may be considered high, but is nowhere near the numbers in Jamaica, Curaçao, Trinidad or even St.Maarten.
The Virtuoso Symposium was held at the St. Regis Mexico City and the attendees were treated to many activities epitomizing the hospitality and variety of Mexico City during the four days. One lunch was held at an estancia located near the amazing Toltec pyramids. The ranch was owned by heirs of the family that owns Grupo Modelo of Corona Beer fame and had most recently been the site of a meeting between Calderon and France’s Prime Minister Sarkozy.
Another lunch was held in a permanent tent alongside a Charro (Mexican cowboy event complete with ladies riding side saddle and men wearing huge sombreros and competing in rodeo style events). Dinners were held in private venues at Vizcainas, a colonial period school and convent, the Franz Mayer Museum , and most impressive of all, the world famous Museum of Anthropology , including an after hours opening of the museum.