CAMPAIGNS: Mexico heralds its closeness for US, Canadian tourists

PR Team: Mexico Tourism Board (Mexico City) and Fleishman-Hillard Miami/ Latin America (Miami) Campaign: "Mexico, Closer than Ever" Time Frame: 2002 Budget: $2 million

PR Team: Mexico Tourism Board (Mexico City) and Fleishman-Hillard Miami/ Latin America (Miami) Campaign: "Mexico, Closer than Ever" Time Frame: 2002 Budget: $2 million

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks threatened to batter Mexico's $8 billion tourism industry. Of the 20 million visitors to the country each year, an overwhelming 90% of those travelers come from the US and Canada (17.5 million are Americans and 700,000 Canadians). These are two countries in which travelers are now much more likely to cocoon in their homes than travel abroad amidst the post-September-11 environment. Strategy "We crafted a theme that backs on the fact that in times of crisis people don't like to venture far from their neighborhood," says Rissig Licha, EVP, Fleishman-Hillard Miami/Latin America. The "Mexico, Closer than Ever" theme would position the country as a close, safe destination for North American travelers. The Mexico Tourism Board also realized that many travelers had probably nixed plans to overseas destinations like Europe and Asia. As such, they sought to position Mexico as a viable alternative. "Mexico is already known in the US and Canada for its beach resorts, but our country has much more to offer, from colonial cities to archaeological ruins to some of the world's largest and most cosmopolitan cities," says Teresa Solis Trejo, the Mexico Tourism Board's PR director. Tactics To target US and Canadian media, Fleishman created and managed the Mexico Travel News Bureau. It included a section for journalists at the website visitmexico.com, which featured daily news updates, as well as access to more than 1,300 photos. "We also had a toll-free number, which fielded about 20 calls a day from different media asking about, for example, when a golf course was set to open or for a calendar of events for a particular region," says Licha. A multicity tour with tourism officials from Mexico also visited key US cities Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. Officials met not only with the media, but also with travel agents and wholesale packagers. That media tour was reinforced with more than 60 press releases (five per month), highlighting such aspects as cultural attractions, cuisine, and travel deals. Results International travel to Mexico dropped in 2002 by 3%. In previous years, perhaps this result wouldn't have been considered a success. But Licha points out that Mexico avoided the double-digit declines suffered by European and Caribbean countries. More importantly, however, is that tourism-generated revenue increased by a healthy 3% last year, reflecting that tourists were not just sitting on the beach, but were spending money in cities and at attractions. For the first eight months of 2003, Mexico earned a record $6.5 billion in tourism dollars. Says Solis Trejo, "This increase is particularly impressive given the tough economic climate." As part of Fleishman's contract with the Mexico Tourism Board, an independent auditing company was hired, and tallied more than 1,800 media clips. In the US, coverage was generated in publications like Sports Illustrated, Bon Appetit (a special collector's edition devoted exclusively to Mexican cuisine), and The New York Times, and on NBC and The Travel Channel. In Canada, the campaign landed stories in The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star newspapers. The auditing company reported an advertising equivalency of more than $129 million, generating a 69-1 return on investment, which far exceeded the 25-1 ad-equivalency ratio set out in the contract. Future The Mexico Tourism Board is no longer working with Fleishman. But the "Mexico, Closer than Ever" campaign continues under the Miami office of Burson-Marsteller, which won the account in April. Burson won the first contract in the history of the Mexico Tourism Board that spans 32 months, says Solis Trejo, "allowing for a continuity of programs and strategies that did not exist previously."

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