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Gaining insight from south-of-the-border getaway

As I See It

puerto vallarta, mexico — Every winter, publishers whose newspapers and journals belong to the Association of Area Business Publications gather in this resort city along Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

The weather is warm, similar to Hawaii’s climate, and that’s an important consideration for our Yankee brethren who are usually slogging around in snow and ice this time of year. Of course, it’s nice for Southerners used to milder winters to get away to Mexico, too.

Puerto Vallarta is a city surrounded by mountains. Access is mostly by air or water. Tourism is its only product of any consequence, and the people are experts at coddling their tourists. Since tourism is becoming more and more important to Mississippi’s economy, I thought that a few observations from the Mexican perspective might be valuable.

The most striking difference I’ve noticed is how comfortably bilingual most Mexicans are in this area. I know from experience that this is not universal throughout Mexico. The border towns do fairly well while the residents of the Mexican interior have little or no bilingual skills. Since they don’t come in frequent contact with foreigners, it’s not that important.

Mexicans who make their livelihood from foreigners know which side of their bread is buttered, and they welcome visitors. Granted, most visitors to Mississippi are from our country. However, we are increasingly hosting visitors from abroad who come for both business and pleasure. With increasing globalization, that trend is likely to continue. Additionally, more and more Mississippians are traveling overseas.

How are we doing at learning other languages? Poorly, I would say.

Most Americans, and particularly Southerners, seem to have a somewhat arrogant attitude on the subject of other languages. We expect everyone else to learn our language. After all, this is the greatest country on earth and they are privileged to be amongst us, right? While that premise is certainly true, perhaps we could exhibit a little more hospitality and show at least some interest in the languages and cultures of others while still retaining our pride.

Many years ago, I managed a manufacturing operation in Matamoros, Mexico. Unlike Puerto Vallarta, Matamoros is a border town located opposite Brownsville, Texas. While tourism is significant at all border crossings, manufacturing is more important there. It’s a primitive, rough area in comparison to the Mexican cities like Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Cancun.

I was told that Mexicans consider it an honor when foreigners attempt to speak their language. To see what might happen, I once addressed a meeting of our supervisors in heavily Mississippi-accented Spanish. The response was incredible. I was told over and over how I had honored our workers by making the “effort” to attempt to speak their language. Morale soared.

Is there a lesson there for Mississippians whose work brings them into contact with people from other countries? I think so.

A second observation is the friendliness of everyone we’ve dealt with in Puerto Vallarta. From waiters to hotel housekeepers to cab drivers, we were served with a smile and genuine friendliness. Though friendly, the cab drivers all seem to be honing their skills for the NASCAR circuit, but that’s another story.

How can we inspire our employees to be more friendly to everyone they come in contact with? The Mexicans told us they realized their livelihood depended on being helpful and friendly. Isn’t that really true everywhere? Isn’t that what “customer service” is all about?

If we could just motivate all of our employees to treat our customers, suppliers and colleagues with an attitude of genuine friendliness and excitement at the opportunity to be of service what a difference it would make in our society. Isn’t that our heritage as Southerners?

Oh well, time to get back to the States. I have enjoyed the trip but will be happy to see that “Welcome to the United States” sign at the Customs’ station in Dallas. Getting away is exciting, getting home is settling.


Naturally, we flew to our destination. Security is tighter, and it takes a little additional time to check-in, but other than that, everything was smooth. I wasn’t nervous and will not hesitate to fly in the future. With the cheap fares now available this is a good time to go far on just a little money.

Bon voyage!

Thought for the Moment — There’s only one endeavor in which you can start at the top, and that’s digging a hole.

— Unknown

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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