The theme for this year’s Adventure Travel Mexico event (ATMEX), held in August in the state of Chiapas, was “A Catalyst for Economic Development.” The idea is that the conference would inspire local operators and destination marketers around Mexico to develop their sustainable tourism products and use international buyers and media to get the word out that Mexico is ready for adventure travel.
“So many people asked me what resort I was staying at when they heard I was going to Mexico,” said ATTA’s Communication Manager, Jennifer Pemberton. “When I told them about ATMEX and Chiapas, their follow-up was ‘be careful!’ We have a long way to go, but this industry has the potential to change Mexico’s reputation one adventure traveler at a time.”
Participants of ATMEX 2014 landed in Mexico and set off on several different familiarization trips (“FAMs”) throughout the country, exploring Mexican states that don’t immediately spring to mind — like San Luis Potosi, Chihuahua and Chiapas. Adventure activities ranged from visiting Mayan ruins and local wildlife rehabilitation facilities to rappelling down waterfalls and whitewater rafting. Developing an adventure tourism industry takes many shapes and forms and a wide range was exhibited by local operators this year.
When international attendees returned from their adventure FAMs around Mexico, they convened in the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, in the highlands of Chiapas, for the conference portion of ATMEX. The governor of Chiapas, Manuel Velasco Coello, and ATTA’s President Shannon Stowell were among the dignitaries who cut the ribbon in the Plaza de la Paz and officially opened the event.
Marketplace took place in white tents throughout the Plaza. Local operators and Mexican states displayed their destinations at booths that were visited by nearly one thousand buyers and media over two days. The display for the ATMEX home state of Chiapas featured their new slogan “Chiapasionate” and provided the backdrop for the opening ceremony. The number of meetings that took place during Marketplace was in the thousands as buyers imagined new itineraries and travel writers developed new storylines including adventure activities throughout these somewhat undiscovered parts of Mexico.
Concurrent sessions at this year’s ATMEX focused on storytelling, community tourism, authenticity, strategic partnerships and business resources. One room during each session was dedicated to highlighting regions of Mexico with great adventure potential like Oaxaca, Baja California Sur and San Luis Potosi.
In his remarks at the closing ceremony, Shannon Stowell said, “Good news. We’re tired. We’ve worked hard this week and we have so many stories now to tell the world about Chiapas.” The governor reiterated by saying that he heard many accounts of international buyers having completely changed their perspective on Chiapas and Mexico in general after ATMEX.
The majority of ATMEX delegates who responded to an ATTA survey said that they had a “more favorable perception of Mexico” after attending the event in Chiapas. The rest said that their perception has not changed. None of the respondents indicated that their perception of Mexico was less favorable upon return from Chiapas.
“Mexico has so many diverse experiences to offer,” said one tour operator delegate based in the United States. “I want my clients to experience Mexico in a deeper way and go beyond the resort and the cruises so they can appreciate its hospitality and rich culture… [after ATMEX] I can say that I have solid partners in several states now who will take care of the clients I will send them.”
On the last day of ATMEX, the ATTA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the State Government of Chiapas, in which Chiapas commits to becoming an “early adopter” of a guide training and company certification program which would be designed and endorsed by ATTA. This training and certification program would include subjects like safety, sustainability, marketing and other critical business skills required to become proficient international operators. This is just one of the ways that destinations like Chiapas are becoming catalysts for economic development in Mexico.
The ATTA plans to partner with Mexico on ATMEX 2015. Look for news on location and dates in the coming months.