The enormous size of the Chinese tourism market inevitably makes China the most important tourism market for many neighboring countries. The economic magnitude that Chinese tourism plays in the East Asia region, which was recently highlighted with the South Korea tourism ban and the substantial loss in tourism revenue that came of it. But this situation is not unique. In the Americas in general and North America in particular, the United States plays a similarly dominant role. For Mexico, the outsized importance of U.S. travelers for the domestic tourism industry means that diversification is key. And for Mexico, the key to diversifying tourism source markets is China.
In 2017, China ranked as Mexico’s 15th largest source of tourists in terms of arrivals, responsible for 141,692 visits—or 0.8 percent of all international arrivals by air. This doesn’t only put China far behind principal source markets like the United States and countries throughout Latin America, but also behind long-haul source markets like Italy and even Japan.
Chinese tourists still represent only a fraction of visitors in Mexico
Meanwhile, in the United States, China is already the most valuable tourism source market and ranks as the fifth-largest source of international arrivals. In Canada, Chinese tourists have also helped mitigate some of Canada’s overreliance on U.S. visitors.
Even Cuba, home to a much smaller number of hotels and world-famous tourist attractions, is achieving significant growth in the Chinese tourism market. In 2017, Chinese arrivals in Cuba grew by 17 percent (compared to 14.5 percent in Mexico), with a goal to reach 60,000 Chinese arrivals in 2018. To say that there’s a lot of potential for Mexico in the Chinese tourism market would be an understatement.
For many destinations in the Americas, a defeatist attitude to Chinese tourism is common. With few, if any, direct flights, and limited brand recognition in China, many destinations have surrendered to remaining an off the beaten track destination for China’s most independent travelers. While certainly better (and more profitable) than nothing, the prospect of China helping such destinations diversify source markets away from neighboring countries and North America seems like an unlikely prospect.
For Mexico, however, this is no longer the case.
While perhaps late to the game compared to North American compatriots Canada and the United States, Mexico is actively pursuing Chinese travelers like few of its Latin American peers. At travel trade fairs in China, a large presence by Visit Mexico is a common sight, and there’s significant optimism about Mexico’s future in the Chinese tourism market.
Mexico’s high ambitions in the Chinese tourism market have started to pay off
Fortunately for Mexico, these ambitions appear to finally turn into fruition. More important than anything, Mexico has seen the successful launch of direct flights from China in 2017 and 2018. Just two weeks ago, Hainan Airlines launched the first Chinese direct flight between Beijing and Mexico City by way of Tijuana. AeroMexico, meanwhile, operates a similarly important route with its Mexico City-Tijuana-Shanghai flight. To round things up, China Southern has since April 2017 operated a Guangzhou-Mexico City flight—the first flight to connect the two countries.
In just 12 months, Mexico has added three direct flight connections To the most important source markets in China
In other words, in the span of just 12 months, Mexico has gone from zero direct flights from China to being connected to the perhaps most important regions for outbound Chinese travel: the Beijing capital region, the Yangtze River Delta through Shanghai, and the Pearl River Delta through Guangzhou.
With three new direct flights (and counting) and high ambitions in the Chinese tourism market, the future looks bright for Mexico’s diversification push. Hopefully, that will tell Mexico’s Latin American peers that even though they may be late to the party, there’s still plenty of opportunity in China with the right strategy and ambition.