Barely two years ago Mexico
City tourism was in deep trouble, its blip on industry radar screens
gone. In fact, the city was experiencing the worst of marketplace fates:
It had been virtually written off as a leisure destination by the industry
and the media were reporting only negative news. Mexico City had lost
its competitive legitimacy. Upon close examination, the reasons, stretching
back 15 years, were clearly evident.
In September of 1985 an earthquake
measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale destroyed parts of the city and took
more than 10,000 lives. After a brief, but intense informational effort
to place the damage in perspective -- no major sites or tourist attractions
had been seriously damaged, the infrastructure was intact -- Mexico
City was largely forgotten by the people responsible for its economic
development. Government tourism officials focused their attention and
concentrated their promotional resources on the new resorts sprouting
along the countrys Caribbean and Pacific Coasts. The Federal District,
though remaining at the center of the nations business, financial,
and governmental life, seemed to have been swallowed by a news vacuum
that, through three crises caused by peso devaluations, soon began to
fill with stories about the citys air quality and crime rate.
Relighting the Lamp
In 2000 a new municipal government
recognized that something had to be done to revitalize the tourism sector
and to provide a solid foundation for its future growth. Together with
the private sector, a dedicated public/private tourism fund, the Fondo
Mixto de Promocion Turistica was set up to fund promotion.
We decided we had to
turn the corner on perceptions and get our positive story out there
with frequency and credibility while containing and managing the negative
press, and the most effective way was public relations, said Federico
Moreno, former Director General for the Fondo Mixto and Senior Director
of Sales and Marketing for the Four Seasons Hotel in Mexico City.
Our research and experience
revealed that niche marketing was the way to go and we identified twelve
markets, from culture, history, fiestas and festivals, to family travel,
religious travel, entertainment/ nightlife, and archaeology, At the
same time, we wanted to get business travelers to extend their stay,
come with a spouse and the kids, he continued.
The challenge was assigned
to KWE Associates, a public relations and marketing communications firm
based in New York and Miami and specializing in travel and tourism.
Analysis of the problem confronting
Mexico City concluded that quick fixes and flashes of activity would
accomplish little of substance and might well prove counterproductive.
Clearly, the situation demanded a basic, but sustained communications
effort with two essential objectives: on the strategic level, the restoration
of credibility; on the tactical level, the building a new and positive
awareness. In marketing terms, the program had to work both ends of
the promotional spectrum, generating consumer pull (demand) and trade
push (selling). Recognizing that no destination is immune to negative
news or events, the agency focused on the idea that the achievement
of balanced coverage would eventually have a positive impact on perceptions.
Rather than pretend the vacuum didnt exist, we set out to ensure
that it would not be filled exclusively by negatives.
It is important to
note that the situation confronting KWE posed a series of challenges
somewhat more complex than those usually encountered in representing
a leisure travel destination, said Carlos Mackinlay, Director
General of the Mexico City Tourism Authority. The circumstances
required a level of sophistication and sensitivity more commonly associated
with corporate communications. At its most basic, the program demanded
the generation of a steady flow of news that was both positive and interesting.
Beyond that, however, it
was vital that the effort be complemented by a range of communications
initiatives to demonstrate to key media and industry opinion makers
that the prevailing, one-dimensional image of Mexico City was factually
incomplete, culturally limited, and commercially short-sighted,
he continued. This outreach extended to the foreign press corps
and foreign embassy officials. In addition, coming at a time of
profound political change on both the national and municipal levels,
the program also had to include a public affairs component, providing
new government officials with strategic guidance and help in presenting
the citys competitive position to industry professionals both
at home and away, said Karen Weiner Escalera, CEO of KWE Associates.
It was an application of the time-honored principle that you have
to sell the program internally before you can take it outside,
The first step was to survey
media and industry leaders in order to establish an attitudinal benchmark
against which to measure progress. Next the agency set out to create
a thematic umbrella for the program, following these simple guidelines:
(1) dont overreach or over-claim; (2) make it sustainable; (3)
convey a sense of the challenge at hand and echo the general message
of the campaign. The choice was Take a Fresh Look at Mexico City --
at once an invitation, a call to action by new and repeat visitors,
and an implied statement that there is much to see and discover, and
a news hook implicit in a new government.
Nuts and Bolts
The approach to program design
and development emphasized key messages, audience selection and contact,
The central message was that
Mexico City was back in the competition for an increasingly demanding
and value conscious traveler with intellectual as well as physical interests.
The subtext called for: expressing the municipal governments commitment
to tourism and economic development; reporting on action programs to
resolve lingering crime and quality of life problems; highlighting evidence
of ongoing tourism sector expansion; and reminding opinion leaders and
consumers alike of Mexico Citys wealth of historic, cultural,
culinary, and recreational attractions focusing on the niches laid out
in the marketing plan.
Establishing a communications
loop and a data base among all those with a proven interest in travel
to Mexico City was one of the first priorities -- from agents and wholesalers
to media, hoteliers, the hotel association, airlines, chamber of commerce
and government agencies. This was done through regular presentations
to marketing partners, newsletters and one on one outreach.
The primary audiences selected
for the information campaign were the two groups that most influence
public perceptions and choice: the lifestyle, special interest, consumer
travel and trade media and tourism industry leaders. Given the goal
of credibly re-establishing Mexico Citys market presence, heavy
emphasis was placed on a program of monthly rediscovery and themed press
visits designed to re-acquaint long absent media. Themes were chosen
that would preclude coverage of potential negatives -- Mexico City chic,
boutique hotels, gastronomy, architecture, and others. All of the tactics
in the publicity arsenal were used: print, radio and video news releases
in English and Spanish; media blitzes at industry tradeshows; quiz shows
and radio promotions; one on one interviews with media opinion makers;
and an informational data base on 12 high interest subjects covering
major attractions, special events and niche market tourism.
One of the most critical
aspects of the campaign was the management of negative press and potential
crises. A comprehensive crisis manual was developed that detailed everything
from what constitutes a crisis, six potential scenarios and a step by
step guide to handling them, human and equipment resources required
(down to the number of office supplies) to staffing a crisis communications
center, contact information of potential public and private sector spokespeople
and government agencies (environment, transportation, police, justice).
Spokesperson training was given to key public and private sector officials.
Two services were chosen
to monitor over 26,000 media in North America and articles/transcripts
sent on a daily basis. Leading Mexico City media were monitored via
the internet on a daily basis as a negative story there could be a call
to action for foreign correspondents. Strategies were developed for
dealing with potential crises, from simple standby statements and letters
to the editor to news releases. One of the most difficult challenges
always faced is convincing people that in a crisis situation sending
a press release is an effective tool in very select cases, said
Escalera. For heedlessly doing so can have the opposite effect
of fanning the fires and spread negative news, she concluded.
In the first 10 months the
Mexico City News Bureau hosted a total of 95 journalists individually
or on guided tours.This included broadcast media, radio and television,
including PBS, CNN, and E!. Among KWEs activities perhaps the
most impressive are its efforts directed at the print media, the backbone
element of any destination marketing campaign. The first-year scoreboard
shows 750 articles with an advertising space value of more than
five million U.S. dollars compared to only 197 negative articles
published. Articles generated were in a whos who of the media
including: New York Times, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler and The Los
and events mean little unless the sum of their impact moves the needle
both quantitatively and qualitatively. KWEs efforts on behalf
of Mexico City have met the test impressively -- and sooner than even
the most optimistic forecasts, said Mackinlay.
On the quantitative side
the city realized a 12-month gain last year of nine percent in foreign
visitors in spite of an international economic downturn and intense
price-based competition. On the qualitative side a major event indicated
a significant shift in attitudes among industry professionals, those
opinion makers so critical to the success of any program. For the first
time in more than a decade, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)
held a Board of Directors Meeting in Mexico City.
How does KWE Associates see
all of this? Mexico City as a leisure destination is back up on
the media and industry radar screens. Now comes the hard part,
Escalera says, adding continuity to credibility.