AS A VISITOR TO MEXICO, IT'S normal to pay money to get out of the country. Soon, you will have to pay money to get in, too.
Starting July 1, Mexico's Tourism Secretariat (Sectur) will charge a fee--US$15 or 150 pesos--to all foreigners traveling farther than 15.5 miles into Mexico's interior. About the only visitors exempt are those staying within the border and cruise ship passengers who stay less than 72 hours. The charge is on top of the $12.50 travelers already pay upon departure.
Why the fee? Sectur spokesman Mario Sanchez says the money will go toward promoting tourism and improving immigration services.
Sure, but the fee could prove to a big revenue booster, something Mexico craves right now. With 10 million visitors traveling beyond the border, the new fee could rake in $150 million more a year into the government's coffers.
Last year, tourism passed oil as the country's largest source of revenue, bringing in $7.9 billion. The figure was up from $7.7 billion in 1997, but it was off Sectur's $8.5 billion target.
The new fee has left travel agents grumbling. "I think it's high. Two dollars here, three dollars there. It adds up," says Sue Kelman, a travel agent at Elkhorn Travel in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. "You really wonder who is getting the money."