Mexico Steps into the Adventure Travel Spotlight

By: Lisa Coleman

For most people, Mexico is about beaches, sunsets and margaritas. For others, Mexico is about archeology, history and culture. Mexico is certainly all of those things, but it also happens to be one the world’s five richest countries in terms of biological diversity. Its land is a remarkable mosaic of ecosystems ranging from northern arid deserts and an interior filled with pine forests and snow-capped mountains, to tropical jungles dominating the south. (Not to mention more than 6,000 miles of coastline!) This means that it’s time to skip the tequila and put on your hiking boots.

Adventure travel is stepping into Mexico’s tourism spotlight and making a huge impact. Nature lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts can now discover a new realm of possibilities. In terms of ecological and adventure tourism, Mexico is really beginning to take some notable strides steps. In the last decade, Mexico has tripled the amount of acreage set aside for protected land. There are now over 18 million acres of ecological preserves, including 44 national parks, 24 biosphere reserves, 111 protected areas, and a substantial number of national marine parks.

Last month, Mexico hosted ATMEX, the first international trade and consumer adventure travel fair featuring the country’s top adventure travel tour operators and destinations. This exciting event was held in Boca del Rio, Veracruz, at the World Trade Center in conjunction with Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), the world’s leading adventure tourism trade organization.  According to ATTA, this event was “born out of the 2011 Adventure Travel World Summit at which Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón emphatically supported responsible adventure tourism development for the nation, and the event quickly established itself as one of the most important annual travel events in Latin America. A dynamic business-to-business marketplace, featuring more than 150 of Mexico´s top quality operators, it gave attendees a taste of the undiscovered, untapped and distinct products available to adventure travelers to Mexico. ”

Mexican Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara Manzo kicked off the event with a speech in Catemaco, Veracruz. She discussed the importance of adventure travel and how quickly it is becoming a contender in Mexico’s already dynamic travel industry.  She emphasized, “The average leisure stay in Mexico is 5 days, but for adventure travelers the average stay is 8 days.” Moving into the future, Secretary Guevara made it clear that Mexico will continue to support and expand its dedication to adventure tourism.

Throughout the event, keynote speakers addressed a packed house. Shannon Stowell, President of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA),  opened the main event discussing the adventure travel industry as a whole. He also stressed the importance and impact this kind of travel has on local communities. He explained, “When travelers stay in an all-inclusive resort, only about 10% of the revenues from their stay goes to the local community, whereas for adventure travelers, the figure is 65%. While general travel is experiencing a growth of 4%, adventure tourism is growing at 16%.”

Adventurer Carlos Carsolio, a mountaineer, and the first Mexican climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest, also gave an intriguing keynote speech. Mountaineers and non-mountaineers alike were riveted by his accounts of his adventures. His words were motivating, and had everyone one in the room dreaming of the summit.

I was particularly impressed with J. Wallace Nichols, a renowned marine biologist and turtle expert and founder and director of Ocean Revolution  (an international network of young ocean advocates). Though an American with fairly limited language skills, he chose to give his speech in Spanish. (He did a great job!) He offered an extraordinary and personal look at the importance of conservation, the ocean and the natural beauty throughout Mexico and the world. “He works to inspire a deeper connection with nature” through his foundations, which also include, a conservation travel network and, a global campaign to reconnect us to our water planet.

The event closed with a heartfelt and powerful speech by Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, founder of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG).  She is a passionate and dedicated advocate for utilizing community participation to establish a “new paradigm” in the management of protected areas. She strives “to respond locally to global crisis” and works toward a “carbon neutral planet.” Señora Corzo is “dedicated to meeting the three challenges of climate change today: reducing people´s impact, preserving biodiversity, and strengthening rural community livelihoods.”

In addition, there were ongoing seminars happening throughout the day to help educate the tour operators about everything from social media to understanding advertising. The trade show floor hosted colorful booths and was stocked with any and all information imaginable on destinations and tours available for adventurers of all levels.

ATMEX will undoubtedly become a mainstay event in Mexico. If you have an opportunity to attend in 2013, I would encourage you to go and learn about the incredible possibilities for adventure travel in Mexico.