C.O.O. and Undersecretary of Tourism
With a long career in the hotel sector that has included stints at Hyatt, Westin and Choice, Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete brings a wealth of knowledge to his new role overseeing the tourism promotion arm of the Mexican government, as C.O.O. and Undersecretary of Tourism for Mexico.
Having been partly educated in the U.S. with an MBA from the University of Arizona in Tucson, the road to Lopez-Negrete’s March 2010 appointment includes an unusual detour: For 15 years, Lopez-Negrete was a leader in the music industry, starting as President of BMG for Mexico and Central America before going on to head up BMG and EMI’s Latin America divisions.
Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan caught up with Lopez-Negrete in Acapulco less than two months in to his new position for an exclusive interview during Tianguis, Mexico’s annual tourism trade fair.
ET: How is it returning to tourism?
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete: I am happy to return to the tourism industry. It is a beautiful industry.
ET: Can you give us a “State of the Nation” as it relates to luxury tourism in Mexico?
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete: We have a very broad product, but the first point is that we want the Mexico brand to be perceived as a luxury brand. From a positioning and image perspective, we want Mexico positioned as a luxury product.
ET: And obviously you feel Mexico has a product to back this up.
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete: There is no question about this. While I was away [from tourism], the infrastructure alone that has been put in place—from airport facilities, to highways, to hotels, golf courses, resorts, spas, marinas, museums, cultural centers and shopping—is really amazing.
ET: Can you give us some specific examples?
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete: Right here in Acapulco, the Banyan Tree was just opened by President Calderon, underscoring luxury travel’s importance to Mexico. The hotel cost $183 million to construct, so over $1 million per key. Back in January, before I came to the tourist board, I was in Mayakoba [a luxury resort development in Riviera Maya] and it was amazing. There is the Fairmont, Banyan Tree, Rosewood, next door is the new Mandarin Oriental—and there were already several beautiful luxury resorts that are part of The Leading Hotels of the World. If you want more examples, look at Punta Mita, Riviera Nayarit, Los Cabos… I could go on [smiles].
ET: Clearly you feel there is plenty of luxury product in Mexico.
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete: For luxury in Mexico, the product is there. It is just that we need to do a little bit better job communicating it.
ET: Are there any other examples to demonstrate the world-class status of Mexico’s product?
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete: Virtuoso is the leading group of luxury travel agents, and they just held their Annual Symposium in Mexico City. These are top travel agents and they are obviously experienced travelers. In 2009 they had their conference in Australia, which is a very appealing destination, and they had 350 attendees. When they announced that the 2010 conference would be in Mexico City, within six days they had registered 440 delegates. And when we held the conference, there were only four
cancellations, the fewest they have ever had. Those types of numbers are an indication that Mexico can position itself as a world-class luxury product and destination.
ET: Did you have any comments or feedback from the Virtuoso Symposium that surprised you?
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete: These were, as I said, experienced travelers and they were surprised at Mexico City’s product in terms of the wealth of options from restaurants, museums, culture and shopping. Now we have 440 ambassadors for Mexico City—but it goes back to the point that we have the product, and we just have to communicate that a bit better.