Sara Gómez-Ortigoza
Director General
MSC Cruceros Mexico
View from the Top

Open Seas for Mexico's Cruise Industry

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 16:38

Although the Mexican tourism industry is on the rise, one area that has yet to reach its potential is cruise ship travel. Sara Gómez-Ortigoza, Director General of Italian cruise liner MSC Cruceros, says cruises have gained in popularity in recent years but their contribution to Mexico’s economy could increase with the existence of a base port in Mexico. “A base port would allow more cruises to depart and arrive in Mexico and would greatly contribute to creating more jobs in the sector.”
Gómez-Ortigoza says the work the cruise segment has done in recent years to position itself in the minds of Mexican travelers as a holiday option has borne fruit, although MSC Cruceros is still better known outside the country. “MSC Cruceros is the No. 1 cruise company in Italy, Germany and Spain but in Mexico we have problems positioning ourselves.” These challenges, she adds, are due to two reasons: the monopoly held by large and traditional cruise companies and the belief that cruises are expensive. “When we started operating in Mexico, we immediately began to compete with companies that had several years of experience. Competition is difficult because many travel agencies face restrictions related to which new cruise packages they can accept,” says GómezOrtigoza. To overcome these restrictions, MSC Cruceros implemented a long-term strategy. “We are introducing an offer we are still improving. We want potential customers to get to know our offerings and to enjoy and compare.”
Changing the Mexican perception of cruise travel is also a challenge. “In the past, if Mexican travelers wanted to travel on a cruise, they had to go to Europe or the US to embark. There was a misconception that traveling on a cruise was reserved only for those with high purchasing power,” says Gómez-Ortigoza. However, the industry has taken significant steps to change this perception. “The secret is to plan in advance. When travelers plan their trips in advance, they can access better prices and travel with more options. It has been a matter of educating the Mexican travel sector to plan ahead and to help them understand that they too can access this better type of pleasure trip.”
Having a port in Cozumel to board passengers has also gone a long way to improving access for middleincome travelers, says Gómez-Ortigoza. “Mexico has great potential and MSC Cruceros offers accessible rates. But Mexicans required a US visa to embark from Miami. Leaving from Cozumel has opened up the possibility for more people to travel and we have seen an increase in clients from the southeast of the country.”
Positioning a base port in the country would do even more to bolster the industry. “When there are home ports, there is usually an agreement between the local navy workforce and shipping companies that allows members of the local navy workforce to be employed on ships,” says GómezOrtigoza. “Additional employment opportunities are also available to chefs or waiters who speak several languages. It can be a new source of income for many Mexicans.” Mexican personnel would be particularly welcome in the service area, says Gómez-Ortigoza. “When it comes to service in the tourism sector, Mexico has a true calling. We have very qualified personnel compared to other countries.”
Gómez-Ortigoza believes the industry could become more dynamic but it requires more public sector support. “The government needs to support companies, even if they are foreign, and to invest in tourism infrastructure, including the development of better airports, ports and services.” She adds that the public sector should support the development of more options that leave from Mexico. “I would also ask the public sector to help companies like MSC Cruceros by making administrative procedures and paperwork much easier. Unfortunately, in Mexico anything related to administrative procedures even for the simplest thing is very complicated.” 
Gómez-Ortigoza also highlights the economic benefits that the sector can offer the Mexican workforce. “I would also ask for fiscal incentives for companies that provide employment and benefits to Mexicans. We also need better infrastructure, with more ports along the Mexican coasts. Improved security for our travelers, both national and international, is also a must.”