All posts by lisac

U.S. and Mexico Sign Agreement on Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council

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Mexico City, May 21, 2013 – The United States and Mexico agreed to create the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (MUSEIC). The Council was formalized through the signing of the framework agreement between the U.S. State Department and Mexico’s National Institute of Entrepreneurship.

During President Obama’s visit to Mexico earlier this month, he expressed, along with President Peña Nieto, his commitment to developing an even closer economic and trade relationship between both countries. The Presidents announced the High Level Economic Dialogue, in which officials from both governments will work together to promote competitiveness and connectivity, boost economic growth and innovation, and join forces for global leadership.

On May 8, the preliminary stages to create a binational entrepreneurship and innovation council were developed. This Council will provide a forum to coordinate and collaborate on strategies that trigger the growth of micro, small and medium enterprises.

This Council will integrate a working plan that includes specific programs and activities to incorporate Mexico into the Global Entrepreneurship Program, a U.S. initiative that seeks to catapult entrepreneurs in emerging economies through tools and links to its programs.

MUSEIC was formally launched on May 20th through the signing of the framework agreement by Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez and the chairman of Mexico’s National Institute of Entrepreneurship, Enrique Jacob Rocha, with Mexico’s Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo serving as witness of honor. Representatives from the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and the National Council for Science and Technology were also present at the signing.

Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez said, “I have been impressed with the commitment of the Mexican government to entrepreneurship both with the words last week by President Peña Nieto and by the formation of the new INADEM led by Enrique Jacob Rocha.  We are confident this partnership will create the environment where both our countries will have the opportunity to work together for economic prosperity.”

Enrique Jacob Rocha, chairman of the National Institute of Entrepreneurship stated, “This Council represents the ideal platform to boost our entrepreneurship ecosystem, not only domestically, but around the world, and it will allow us to fulfill one of the goals of this Institute: making our entrepreneurs more competitive alongside one of our key partners.”

U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affires ad interim Laura Dogu said, “Entrepreneurs are the drivers of innovation, of job creation and of sustained economic growth. This is why I am pleased that MUSEIC will strengthen regional competitiveness, which gives us a critical advantage above other regions in a global economy of innovation that is more competitive every day.”

The Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council will focus on:

A regulatory framework that will favor innovative entrepreneurship;     Promoting women-led entrepreneurship;     Participation and collaboration of the Latin American diaspora;     Promotion and integration of infrastructure to support entrepreneurs and micro, small, and medium enterprises;     Sharing expertise and best practices on development of regional innovation clusters;     Sharing expertise and best practices on supply chains; and     Sharing tools and best practices on financing and promotion of innovative, high-impact entrepreneurship.

The Council will be comprised of different participants of the entrepreneur ecosystem from Mexico and the United States, including government officials, academics, private sector representatives, non-government organizations and venture capital funds, among others.

Huatulco and Las Palmas – A Match made in Heaven

By: Lisa Coleman

Santorini, Greece – Interlaken and Lucerne, Switzerland – Positano, Italy – The Himalayas – these are a few of the destinations that make my short list of “no matter how you imagined it, it’s better.” After my recent trip to Oaxaca for my 50th birthday, it’s time to add a couple more to the list: Huatulco and the ocean front villas and casitas at Las Palmas.

As a writer, I have the rare opportunity to travel through Mexico in search of paradise. I have found hundreds of amazing destinations throughout this marvelous country, but from the heart, I can tell you Huatulco is simply one of the best beach resorts in the entire country, and Las Palmas one of most perfect places where I’ve had a chance to stay… and that’s a tall order. There is a certain inexplicable magic here, a laid back sweetness if you will, all wrapped in the inviting smiles of the local people who are always happy you chose their charming, yet isolated, gem of a beach town on the Pacific.

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In the early 1970’s, the Mexican government embarked on an ambitious plan to develop tourism through a series of integrated master-planned beach resorts. FONATUR, which is the National Trust for Tourism Development (Fondo Nacional del Fomento al Turismo), was responsible for the blockbuster resorts of Cancun, Ixtapa and Los Cabos, as well as the lesser-known communities of Loreto and the Bahías de Huatulco (the Bays of Huatulco, which has been shortened to simply “Huatulco.”) Nonetheless, their loss is your gain. The very fact that it hasn’t exploded with tourism is exactly what makes it so very special. Huatulco is far different from its high profile companions. Considered and developed as an “ecotourism” resort, 70% of Huatulco is made up of ecological preserves. In 1988, then President Ernesto Zedillo converted most of Huatulco’s preserves into a giant national park (protecting both land and marine life).  They pride themselves in being a totally “green” resort. FONATUR still controls all local land sales within the development and ensures that all new projects meet certain standards in order to maintain Huatulco’s Green Globe status.

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    At the center of it all are a series of nine spectacular bays notched into 21 miles of shoreline hosting 36 beaches, countless inlets and coves, and arguably some of the most extraordinary coastline on the Pacific. The crystal clear water, and usually sparsely populated golden sand beaches, somehow don’t feel like a tourist destination. It all seems a bit more secluded and private. And since some of the bays and beaches are only accessible by boat, everything remains as nature intended. I wouldn’t usually recommend much snorkeling on some parts of the Pacific coast, but rest assured you won’t be disappointed here.

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In my opinion, there just aren’t a lot of places like this left in the world. There is just enough development here to give you anything and everything you want in a beach resort, and just enough off-the-beaten-path remoteness to keep it off most tourists’ radar. Of the nine bays that were slated for development, only six have “visitor facilities.” The main areas are: Tangolunda Bay, home to the big resorts, an 18-hole golf course, a smattering of nightlife and a little resort shopping. The bay of Santa Cruz, with a good-sized marina, an intimate little village with beachside restaurants and bars, plenty of shops and an often-deserted cruise ship dock. And, Chahue Bay (CHAH-way), located between the two above, sports another marina, lots of new high-end condo projects and a public beach. About a mile inland, the charming little town of La Crucecita is a slice of pure Mexico. With a colorful and quaint town square, plenty of inviting restaurants and bars, a few excellent fresh seafood stalls to pick up the daily catch, and a very well-stocked grocery store (the Súper Che) that takes U.S. dollars and gives change in pesos at a great rate… what more do you need?

Well, you need an amazing place to stay… and that’s the subtle, refined, and perfectly done Las Palmas. Since we were looking for a villa, my good friend Sylvie Laitre, who owns and operates Mexico Boutique Hotels, made the recommendation. A quick glance at the endless 5-star reviews on Trip Advisor and it was an easy sell. I was put in contact with the darling and incredibly efficient manager, Courtney Glassman. Her title, Director of Escapes, is very appropriate. She is the ideal hostess and makes sure everything is in perfect order before you arrive.

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Las Palmas has a prestigious location, perched on a cliff with incomparable views of Violin Bay on one side and Santa Cruz Bay on the other.  Just five minutes from La Crucecita and 15 minutes from the Tangolunda Golf Club, you won’t spend more than $6 USD to get anywhere in the area. (Taxis are plentiful and happy to wait for you at the grocery store.) With a total of five casitas and three villas, Las Palmas has the look and feel of an expertly designed Mexican estate. Owners, Ron and Jackie Williams, saw it as just that. Ron told me, “We came down here in 2001 with another couple. We had always wanted something tropical but had been leaning towards Hawaii. On our fourth day in Huatulco we saw the beach at Violin Bay from the road, looked up at the cliff and, even though it was all jungle, knew this was the place.”  Ron and Jackie tell their story with such love and passion that their energy can’t help but flow into the property.  “We took a boat around to the bay and looked at the property by sea. We wired the money as fast as we could.”

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Over the course of the next several months and years, the vision of Las Palmas began to develop. There was infrastructure in place with fresh water and electricity available at the street. They interviewed three different architects and finally decided on Gontran Orozco Canales, who Ron and Jackie affectionately call the “contractor from heaven.” The doors opened to the Turtle Bay and Dolphin Cove Villas in 2007, the casitas followed in 2008 and the House of the Rising Sun villa in 2009. And since the beginning, it’s been all about the guests. “We have so many repeat guests that are like family to us now,” Jackie says. “The same five couples come every year and we arrange our big bookings (which are weddings) around our regulars,” Ron boasts with a smile. “It’s just soulful here and we do our best to make it unforgettable for everyone.” From where I sit, I’d say they have certainly succeeded in doing just that.

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Even though there were only four of us, we went all out and opted for the Dolphin Cove Villa. As many times as I looked at the pictures on their website in the months before we left, it was even more breathtaking when we arrived. We kept staring at each other in disbelief. The open-air dining room and living room flowed seamlessly to the negative edge pool that seemed to connect to the Pacific horizon. The view… well, check out some of the photos and I think you’ll agree it’s quite breathtaking. Our concierge, Talina, was waiting for us at the villa to offer her services for anything we might need – excursions, private massages, restaurant reservations, etc.

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All three of the villas are gigantic and everything is wide open. Each has four suites, making them ideal for both couples and families. Daily housekeeping service and a grounds keeper ensure you feel completely spoiled. There is also the option of having your meals prepared daily – TAKE IT! DO IT! There are few things more decadent than waking up and having fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee and fruit waiting for you on your poolside terrace. Follow that with a ridiculously delicious traditional Mexican breakfast and every day is off to a superb start. There are countless options for things to do and see if you’re feeling ambitious, but I can promise you’ll be hard pressed to leave the glorious sanctuary of your own pool over the Pacific.

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To enjoy the beach on Violin Bay, it’s a short, and not particularly steep, hike down to the usually deserted shore. The snorkeling is great and you’ll feel as though you have the ocean all to yourself. There is another fantastic swimming and snorkeling beach, La Entrega, that is also an easy walk from the property. There are a number of little restaurants there so bring some pesos. Avid snorkelers can also take a bay tour that brings you into some remote beaches by boat.

I’d like to tell you we ventured out and explored more, but we are saving that for our return trip. This trip was dedicated to pure relaxation and soul rejuvenation. It was also about sleeping in, taking an hour and half to eat breakfast, cruising to the Súper Che to pick up wine and other goodies, napping, swimming, reading and stuffing ourselves with fresh ceviche prepared for us daily by the incomparable Margarita (our angelic and splendid cook, housekeeper and professional happy person).  They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I am quite sure after checking out some of these you’re already planning your trip here… and you should be!

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Ron also gave us a tour of a couple of the casitas. They were all full at the time, but the other guests welcomed us with open arms to take a peek. The five casitas all have one-bedroom suites with ocean views and share a pool and a cozy common area with tables where everyone meets, greets and enjoys breakfast and afternoon snacks (featuring the best homemade guacamole ever!).  If you must (and I did) check email, there is free WiFi there too. A lot of people we met had been coming for years, and it was just as Ron described, like being part of a family.  (And, if you’re considering planning your wedding in Mexico, look no further, as this would be an unforgettable spot.)

A quick shout out to a local restaurant we visited in Tangolunda: We did actually leave our private paradise to sample some local fare with Ron and Jackie. There are a lot of expats here and one of their favorite hangs is the exceptional Cafe Vienna. The colorful Austrian owners, Manfred and Helmut, serve an unusual and delectable fusion of Austrian and Thai cuisine. It was excellent food and service and the only time in my life I have eaten expertly prepared European schnitzel in Mexico!

Trust me when I tell you I could ramble on and on about this place… and I most likely will in some following posts. Suffice to say, you’ll love it here. I promise. There are few times in life when reality meets your expectations. A visit to Huatulco and a stay at Las Palmas may very well be one of them.

For more information visit their website at www.laspalmashuatulco.com or email Courtney at courtney@laspalmashuatulco.com

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* Professional photos courtesy of Las Palmas (Only the two of the bay from above and this last one are mine!)

Turning 50 in Oaxaca – A Celebration of the Senses

By: Lisa Coleman

20 years ago I sat on the shores of Playa la Ropa in Zihuatanejo celebrating my 30th birthday. My dear friend from Switzerland told me she had planned a party on the beach. It sounded great, but since this was a new destination for me, turns out she was the only person I knew when I arrived at my own fiesta. A gorgeous table covered with plates of fresh fish, flowers and gifts came courtesy of the locals – people I’d never met, friends I didn’t even know I had.  A trio of musicians stood in the sand and serenaded me with song after song. By the time the evening was over, I had fallen even more in love with Mexico and the extraordinary people that embraced this stranger with smiles, laughter and kindness. It was pure magic. It was pure Mexico.

At the time, I had only been working in Mexico for a few years and had yet to discover the many gifts this magnificent country would continue to give me.  Nonetheless, I knew immediately I was drawn to the country’s more off-the-beaten path places:  the more intimate locales filled with culture and beauty, and the towns and villages enjoyed by the traveler rather than the tourist.  As my 50th birthday loomed on the horizon (and I don’t say that lightly!), I knew in my heart the only place to celebrate this milestone would be my favorite place on earth: Mexico. But where? So many choices, so many memories…  it was difficult to pin such an occasion on a single destination. After much contemplating, I decided to make it a combo adventure – my favorite colonial city and a beach town I’d always wanted to see. And so the wheels were in motion for a trip to the state of Oaxaca.

Photo by Josh Slocum
Photo by Josh Slocum

If you’ve spent much time traveling Mexico, you know this country is a chameleon. Every state shows a different color, every region a unique energy, and every local culture a special tradition. The only constant is diversity… And so it is with the Mexican state of Oaxaca. As intriguing as its name, Oaxaca (wah-HAH-kah) is one of the most unusual and dynamic places in all of Mexico. On a map, the state of Oaxaca can be found about 300 miles southeast of Mexico City. Its stunning Pacific coastline is home to the remarkable beach resort of Huatulco (more on that later), but the centerpiece of the state is the magical Oaxaca City. Founded in 1532, the city is surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range and sits atop an arid highland plateau some 5,000 feet above sea level. And though the city is densely populated, it remains unusually intimate. Easily explored on foot, it has the warm and inviting pace of a village. There is a certain energy that radiates from the people and buildings, almost as if the past remains in the present. The streets resemble a brightly colored painting, enticing aromas fill the air and music abounds… everything looks and feels like a celebration.

When it came down to planning, I reached out to my good friend, Sylvie Laitre, who owns and operates Mexico Boutique Hotels. For me, MBH is simply the best of the best. Sylvie personally chooses each property in the collection and there is something enchanting about staying in a boutique setting rather than a big chain hotel. The service is unprecedented and the feel and experience are completely different.  Over the years, as I have become a savvier traveler, I completely embrace “small property” hospitality, attention to detail and personal touch – especially in Mexico.

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My birthday digs in Oaxaca City would be at the exquisite Hacienda Los Laureles located just a few minutes (five to eight at most and about $4 USD) by taxi outside the center of town. I had stayed here once before (on one of my first trips to Mexico with my husband), so the property holds special meaning for me. With a total of only 23 rooms and suites, Los Laureles is the ideal combination of traditional Mexican style and classic colonial elegance. You feel as though you are in your own private hacienda, complete with lush gardens, towering cypress trees, outstanding service and one of the best restaurants in town. Nestled in the mountain foothills, the hotel maintains its 19th century charm. The owner, Peter Kaiser, makes it his personal goal to ensure every guest feels at home. The evening we arrived, a “Feliz Cumpleaños” was written in flower petals on our bed, and a candlelit dinner was planned for us in the garden. It was a wonderful beginning to my birthday adventure, and the rest of our stay was equally as flawless. (Stay tuned for a more detailed feature story on Hacienda Los Laureles coming soon.)

Monte Alban
Monte Alban

The highlight of any trip to Oaxaca is going to be a visit to the majestic archeological site of Monte Albán.  Indigenous tribes of Zapotec and Mixtec inhabited the area for centuries and built mighty stone cities that flourished for thousands of years. Over 2,500 years ago, the Zapotecs built the holy city of Monte Albán on a hilltop overlooking the Valley of Oaxaca. The view is nothing short of spectacular and whether you’re an archeological buff or not, this will be well worth the visit. We had a fantastic guide, Suzanne Barbezat, from Discover Oaxaca Tours . She and her husband, Benito Hernández, offer six different day trips around the area, and will also customize excursions to fit your personal needs. Benito is Zapotec and has lived most of his life in Oaxaca City so he offers prolific knowledge on culture, tradition and history. Suzanne comes to Oaxaca via Canada. She first visited in 1997 and fell in love with Benito (and Oaxaca!). She is completely bilingual, holds a degree in anthropology, and is the writer and editor for About.com’s Mexico Travel website . They are quite the impassioned pair about anything and everything Oaxaca, and I recommend them highly.  (If you love bird watching, Benito also does birding tours—visit www.birdingoaxaca.com)

Suzanne and Benito
Suzanne and Benito

After a memorable day at Monte Albán, it was time for the main event: a birthday dinner at the famous Casa Oaxaca Restaurant. I selected this restaurant based on the location (just steps from the Santo Domingo church in the city center), the ambiance (simple and romantic with wood tables and towering white stucco ceiling), the awesome rooftop bar, and of course, the exceptional cuisine provided by world-renowned chef, Alejandro Ruiz Olmeda. Known for his creative dishes, Chef Alejandro has populated the menu with everything from expertly prepared rack of lamb, duck in green agave sauce and venison in yellow mole, to traditional Oaxacan specialties and fresh herbed octopus and grilled fish.Our party of eight enjoyed bottle after bottle of Mexican and Spanish selections from the extensive wine list while listening to a trio of musicians playing Mexican favorites. All was as it should be in Mexico – great friends, great food, and great wine, all wrapped up in cozy restaurant.

All too soon it was time to head south to the beach for the last leg of the celebration. We hopped on Aerotucan’s 8-seater commuter for our 45-minute flight to Huatulco (wah-TOOL-co). You can take a bus or rent a car, but you’re in for six to eight hours of winding roads. Despite the steep price tag, it’s certainly the fastest and best way to connect the cities. Of all the resorts in Mexico, I had never been to Huatulco; lucky for me it looks like I saved the best for last. This 21-mile stretch of coastline with nine pristine bays and beaches was one of the most striking beach destinations in Mexico that I’d ever seen. Anchored by the charming little town of La Crucecita, Huatulco was developed by Mexico’s tourism fund (FONATUR) and was designed to be a major Pacific coast resort community. Nonetheless, it has remained small and almost undiscovered… which, to me, is a good thing.

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I had also worked with Sylvie from Mexico Boutique Hotels on a location in Huatulco and she recommended Hotel Las Palmas. After a quick look at their website, and some communications with their amazing staff, it was an easy choice. We were met at Huatulco’s “palapa-topped” airport and were greeted by hotel transportation. The service was spot on from the instant we arrived. When we got to the Dolphin Cove Villa at Las Palmas, it was nothing short of astonishing. I don’t use that word often, but that’s the only description that really sums it up. Our massive 4-bedroom/4-bath villa had an open-air living area, huge kitchen and negative-edge pool overlooking the picturesque Violina Bay and beach. Even though we were there in the dry season it was incredibly beautiful. Owners Ron and Jackie Williams came to Huatulco on a trip from Lake Tahoe in 2001. They took one look at the area and knew they had to realize their dream and build a hotel overlooking the Pacific. Well, their dream turned out to be my dream come true too, as you won’t find many places in Mexico as breathtaking as this. With a total of five casitas and three villas, Las Palmas feels more like a giant private home rather than a hotel. At the risk of overstating the obvious, it was perfect.  (Stay tuned for a full feature story on Las Palmas and Huatulco coming up as well.)023

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about turning 50. But, I can tell you this: turning 50 in Oaxaca is the way to go. Thank you, Mexico. Thank you for reaching into my soul and giving me so many gifts of so many memories. I look forward to the next 50 and continuing to discover your treasures.

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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 SEEtheWILD.org, a conservation travel network and LiVBLUE.org, 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.

 

 

Unique Mexico

By: Lisa Coleman for Mexico Today

Just for a moment, forget your image of Mexico. Close your eyes and imagine past the shimmering shores, the deep blue waters and white sand beaches. Look deeper. Start to envision culture and people, and soon you’ll discover a land of contrasts, a land of diversity.  Mexico has countless unique attractions and over the years I have experienced a good number of them,(though it would take many more years to experience them all!) The following are a sample some of my favorite one-of-a-kind cities, towns, attractions, natural wonders and celebrations.   Continue reading…

 

Culture and Courtesy… Being a Better Traveler in Mexico

By:  Lisa Coleman

I’m sure you’ve heard “when in Rome…. do as the Romans do,” but when stepping into a foreign country it’s really worth considering these words a bit more carefully. The saying originated in 387 A.D. when St. Augustine arrived in Milan and observed the Catholic Church did not fast on Saturday like it was done in Rome. He consulted the Bishop of Milan (St. Ambrose) about the matter who simply replied:  “When I am in Rome I fast on Saturday; when I am in Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of where you are.” That sentiment has stood the test of time and can really make a difference when visiting Mexico, or any other country for that matter.

I have traveled the world and feel there is nothing more frustrating than watching “ugly Americans” (Canadians are guilty, too!) being rude or disrespectful to the local people. Regardless of whether it’s an all-inclusive in Cancun where everyone speaks English, or an eco-hotel in the remote jungle of Chiapas, you are still a guest in Mexico… you are still visiting someone’s home.  As a citizen of the world, you owe it to yourself and your hosts to take the time to understand the basics of the Mexican culture and to embrace their hospitality with the respect it deserves.  I have seen bad manners exhibited many times in Mexico, so I am hoping to shed a little light on some common courtesies that may change your travel experience. At the very least, it will bring a smile to your Mexican hosts!

First, let’s talk about changing your mindset when you plan a trip to Mexico and switch from being a tourist to being a traveler.  What’s the difference? Plenty…

• A tourist expects (and insists) everyone speaks English. A traveler tries to use even the most basic high school Spanish to make an effort.

• A tourist is content to hang out at the swim-up bar getting lobster-red sunburn while becoming louder, drunker, and more obnoxious by the minute. The traveler heads into town, checks out the local markets, tries to make heads or tails of the menus at local restaurants and takes the time to stroll the streets, smile at the people and take in the flavor and color of the place they are visiting.

• A tourist goes to the local McDonalds, American chain restaurant, or orders a hamburger at the hotel. A traveler will find out where the best local dishes are served and at the very least give them a try.

• A tourist is content to be part of a group and to take large tours to all the most famous spots. A traveler tends to rent a car with a few other people (or solo) and explore the area on their own.

That list could go on forever, but you get the idea.

Mexico is also far more formal than many would think. If you know anything about Mexican history, you know the Spanish had a tremendous influence on the people and culture of the country. The early Spanish overlords who came to Mexico in the 1500s brought the etiquette of the Royal Court of Spain, and many of those formalities still exist. As a rule, the Mexicans have maintained this cortesía, and it’s important that foreigners be aware and sensitive to not insulting the dignidad of the people they encounter.

The Basics

• For starters, it helps to use Señor (Mr.) or Señora (Mrs.) with the men or women you encounter. Mexicans always address by social status and this immediately shows respect and will be a quick step in the right direction. (Señorita would be used to address a young, unmarried woman and is similar to Miss.)

• In a restaurant, if you wish to call the waiter, you generally use the term Joven (Ho-ven). Though it means “young person,” it is an accepted term for all waiters. If you have a waitress, Señorita is appropriate. Snapping your fingers? Never.

• “Please” (por favor) and “Thank You” (gracias) are a given if you’d like to ask an employee (or anyone for that matter) to do something. Look them in the eye and be sincere, it will take you a long way.

• Americans tend to enter a room of strangers and only say hello in passing, if at all. They are usually casual, self absorbed and miss the almost constant greetings by their Mexican counterparts. Whether it’s in a public place with strangers, or with people you already know, say buenos días (good morning), buenas tardes (good afternoon) or buenas noches (good evening) to those you see. You’ll notice smiles right away.

• Being humble is a cultural virtue often forgotten by visitors.  Mexicans will always welcome you when you arrive to your destination and refer to their home or even your hotel as su casa (your house). They are modest and truly want you to feel at home in their country. Keep an eye out for that and be sure to thank them for their hospitality.

• If you can’t speak Spanish, don’t insult the local people by shouting louder and slower in English. It’s rude and it doesn’t change the fact that they don’t understand. They will appreciate any effort you make, regardless of your skill level.

• YES it is customary to tip in Mexico.  Here is a great article for reference: http://gomexico.about.com/od/historyculture/qt/tipping_in_mexico.htm

• Come to a church just as you would at home.  Be aware when entering and always take off sunglasses, baseball caps or hats. Wearing shorts is rarely an issue in the beach areas, but women should take care to wear a wrap or sweater to the waist to avoid showing too much skin, which could viewed disrespectful in such places.

• The beach is the beach, but away from the resort areas shorts are very rarely worn by Mexicans on the street. Be cognizant of how you look and avoid drawing too much attention to yourself as a foreigner. Never wear shorts to a business event or to a restaurant outside the immediate resort area.

The Mexican culture isn’t overly complex. It’s built on simplicity, humility and courtesy. The people are tremendously warm and inviting, and genuinely care about their guests. Whether you’re a tourist, a traveler, or a little of both, take an extra few minutes to embrace Mexico at its core and I think you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation of a country waiting to invite you home.

This article was originally posted on www.mexicotoday.org. Click to read all the latest Mexico news.

Mexico, Tourism and the Future

By: Lisa Coleman

Mexico recently stepped onto the world stage, and this time it was for all the right reasons. It’s no secret the headlines don’t do Mexico many favors, but perhaps the tides are turning. Perhaps there will be some much needed focus on the good news in Mexico… because there IS good news… and lots of it.

I recently returned from a trip to the Riviera Maya for the WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council – www.wttc.org) inaugural Regional Summit of the Americas event, which celebrates the economic and social contribution of Travel & Tourism in a particular region (but also addresses the real challenges the industry faces). This was significant for Mexico on many levels, but primarily because it brought together world and industry leaders who understand the importance of tourism.

Tourism defines Mexico, and even in times of trouble, it is this industry that continues to soar and continues to elevate their economy. Travel & Tourism sustained a total of 6.3 million direct, indirect and induced jobs in Mexico in 2011. And for every US$1 million spent on travel and tourism, it generates a further US$1.5 million to the Mexican economy as a whole, as well as 66 jobs per (compared to an average of 42 for all sectors). The Travel & Tourism industry generates more jobs than all other sectors considered – double that of the automotive industry, twenty times that of mining and six times that of the financial services sector.

The very fact that something as prestigious as the WTTC would host an event in Mexico is also sending a powerful message to economies of the world… Mexico is here to stay and is a global leader in tourism. Having been to countless tourism events hosted in and by Mexico over the last 20 years, this was by far the most productive and forward thinking of the bunch. The WTTC has spearheaded global analysis of the economic impact of Travel & Tourism for over 20 years, and is dedicated to measuring the influence of this sector to the GDP (gross domestic product), income and employment in 181 countries. So to have Mexico stand tall amongst this crowd is indeed an accomplishment.

Unlike some events I’ve attended on tourism, this felt very intimate and real, not to mention the laundry list of heavy-hitters on the discussion panels and in attendance. The Summit was co-chaired by WTTC President & CEO David Scowsill and was highlighted by speakers like President Calderón, the Mexico Tourism Secretary, Gloria Guevara, Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, WTTC Chairman (and Chairman of the Executive Board of TUI AG-Europe’s leading travel group), Michael Frenzel, film director, actor and environmentalist Robert Redford, and the Mexican billionaire businessman and philanthropist Carlos Slim.

They all touched on (to varying degrees) the strength of Mexico’s economy. Stats show the Mexican economy has been growing at a sustainable rate of 3.5-5.5% over the past three years, numbers that President Calderón was more than happy to boast about (and I don’t blame him). Both Calderón and Secretary Guevara drilled it down to the direct industry GDP of Mexico’s Travel & Tourism, noting this particular sector expanded 58% between 1990 and 2011, while the total economy expanded 72%. Based on further data compiled by the WTTC, that number is expected to grow at an annual average of 4.4% over the next decade.

Those are powerful, positive numbers for not only Mexican destinations, resorts, airlines and tour operators, but compelling news for those in the travel business worldwide. It’s also a testament to the success of tackling security issues head on. It’s clear that Mexico’s efforts to educate the travel audience are gaining a foothold, and tourists are believing and understanding the message. And with an election just months away, a new president and a new administration will undoubtedly keep the ball rolling.

With the endless negative press about Mexico, you have to dig deep in the news to find the good stuff. But here, in this arena, at a global event, the good news seemed to finally be in spotlight. I felt lucky to have been a part of all of it and to have had the rare opportunity to learn from world and industry leaders. Keep in mind the reality of Mexico’s image problem, safety issues and other challenges weren’t pushed aside, but the panel discussions here were geared to be part of the solution. As a journalist, tourist and traveler, I embraced a forum that really addressed Mexico’s (and the world’s) position on tourism and its extraordinary impact on economies of all scales.

* This article was originally published on www.mexicotoday.org. Click for all Mexico’s current news.