Merida bets on improving air connectivity to attract tourists
To generate flights to and from destinations that have traditionally not identified a passenger demand is a challenge that the Yucatan State Tourism Secretariat is willing to accept in order to connect Merida with the world.
“Connectivity is key to increasing tourism, and airlines respond to an existing demand, but they aren’t responsible for generating it. Destinations are responsible for generating that demand,” said Fernando Ceballos, Director of Tourism Promotion and Connectivity in Yucatan.
Taking advantage of its high value as a destination and being part of a strategic plan for the development of air services, Mérida has devised a model that bets on working together with airports that have similar conditions to open new routes and create traffic, especially if low-cost airlines are involved.
The St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE for its airport code) in Florida could become the first strategic partner for the Merida Airport that would make this plan effective in the long term. If so, it would be the first international flight for PIE and the third direct access to the United States for Merida, after Houston and Miami.
“There is already an agreement of wills that is very important, there is even a Memorandum of Understanding that has not yet been signed, but we are certain that PIE executives have a lot of interest, enthusiasm and availability to contribute funds,” Fernando Ceballos revealed in an interview with A21.
For the state of Yucatan, the Secretaries of Tourism and Economic Development are involved, as well as ASUR, the Airport Group to which Mérida’s Airport belongs, and it’s recognized as its second major airport, right after Cancún.
“It’s innovative, creative and risky; but my goal is to connect Merida with the world and I love the challenge,” said Ceballos.
Nowadays, Merida has a medium-sized airport, which connects nationally with 7 destinations including Mexico City and 4 international ones, Miami, Houston, Toronto and Belize. It features 12 airlines counting American Airlines, which will open a daily flight to Miami on June 2.
From 2012 to date, Mérida has recorded an increase of 80 percent in seat occupancy and 90 percent in passenger mobilization. The current administration took it with 1.3 million and closed December 2016 with 1.96 million of which 70 percent correspond to the domestic market and 30 percent to the international.
The other challenge is time. According to the manager in charge of increasing tourism and boosting connectivity, they have until the current administration (October 2018) is finished to complete the new model .
The new model assumes that there exists demand from the airlines to arrive in Merida.
“We are going to start with the airlines that want to expand. We will offer to them incentives, facilities and everything we can give them. For example, the model of Allegiant Airlines is very innovative, they have concentrated on the domestic part but they have international ambitions, you have to combine the ambitions and the visions,” he said.
In his vision, the need is something that must be taken advantage of, referring to the airport PIE, an hour from Orlando, which is already saturated, especially in high season. Similarly, Visit Florida, the government’s plan to attract tourists, has an interest in generating traffic to the state, especially by the infrastructure investment plan.
“Merida is growing in an impressive way, only this 2017 we are going to build 13 new hotels in a city of one million inhabitants. We have reached the point of mobilizing 2 million passengers and we do not want to miss a single flight, not a single airline, not a single frequency, on the contrary,” he concluded.