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UPDATE, May 25: Financial Times says José Cuervo could sell to Diageo for as much as $3 billion.

May 2011

José Cuervo president says town of Tequila, Mexico
could see 1.5 million visitors in 2020

Tequila industry leader says he only observed, and did not celebrate,
last year's anniversary of the Mexican Revolution

By David Gaddis Smith

The president of Mexico's leading tequila maker sees tourism as one of Mexico's "great, great gold mines" and says the town of Tequila, Mexico could see 1.5 million visitors in the year 2020.

juan-beckmann-vidalJuan Beckmann Vidal, president of the tequila maker José Cuervo, told the Institute of the Americas in San Diego on May 10 that Tequila has been put on the tourism map by the soap opera "Destilando Amor" (Distilling Love). The 2007 soap opera starred Angélica Rivera, now the wife of Mexico state Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto, the odds-on favorite to become Mexico's next president.

The 170-episode soap opera was filmed in Tequila with Rivera playing "the famous Señora Gaviota, now Señora Peña," Beckmann said. La Gaviota, which means Seagull, was the nickname of the character Teresa Hernández García, who winds up being married in a Tequila church in the final episode.

"Before the soap opera, 8,000 tourists arrived. In 2011 we are going to host 200,000 people," Beckmann said.

He said he would like to see Tequila, declared to be a "magical pueblo" by former President Vicente Fox, be part of a tourism route that starts in Puerto Vallarta and ends in San Miguel de Allende. Beckmann said he thought there could be 1.5 million tourists a year in Tequila in 2020.

He said tourists can come year-round, as agave and tequila are produced in the Jalisco state area all year.

He said he hoped increased tourism would provide yet more work for people living around Tequila. He said Tequila has poverty but not misery, and he said there was a job for everyone in town who wanted one.

He said he thought tequila was perhaps the most representative Mexican symbol, although he noted that some might argue for the taco.

Indeed, teuqila was the symbol that President Felipe Calderón invoked May 19 at a tourism convention in Las Vegas, where he sought to downplay the threat of violence to tourists in Mexico. Calderón said the only shots spring breakers took this year were shots of tequila; he said most of Mexico is calm.

Beckmann, 70, said the margarita, made with tequila, is the No. 1 cocktail in the United States. While Sauza outsells José Cuervo in Mexico, Cuervo's exports make it the overall tequila leader. And it was Beckmann, who took over José Cuervo in 1970, who put Cuervo on that export path.

juan-beckmann-vidal-award-institute-of-the-americas-jose-cuervo-tequilaBeckmann, who was born in Mexico City but grew up in Tijuana, was honored last week by the Institute of the Americas, receiving the organization's Business Leadership in the Americas Award.

He thanked friends from his childhood who came to see him with their wives. "A thousand thanks," he said. Among those in attendance was Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante, who sat in the front, and Bustamante's former wife, Sintesis TV director Carolina Aubanel, who sat in the back.

Beckmann said he felt lucky to be a member of the tenth generation of families running José Cuervo. His son, who now operates the company, is the eleventh generation.

jose cuervo logoBeckmann said this was the 253rd anniversary of José Cuervo, which he said made it older than Mexico.

He said he attended an event before last year's 200th anniversary of Mexican independence and 100th anniversary of Mexican Revolution in which Mexican writer and entrepreneur Enrique Krause spoke about commemorating and celebrating the anniversaries.

Beckmann said he had commemorated and celebrated Mexican independence, saying it had provided liberty to Mexicans.

But he said he had only commemorated the Mexican Revolution, saying the ideals of social justice it supposedly fought for were betrayed.

"My mother's father, they took his hacienda, they burned it and left them without a cent and there are still ruins of those burned haciendas left, and the people still are poor. So I will only commemorate the Revolution, so that we don't forget who justice was meted out to."

There is a phrase in Mexico, "The Revolution meted out justice," that often is used to say in a satirical way that the Revolution left millions in poverty.

He lamented the poverty that exists in Mexico, saying he has offices in one of the best neighborhoods in Mexico City but that a few blocks away there is misery "that makes one sad."

He said of Tequila, Mexico: "I had the luck to live there when the town had 10,000 people -- and no television!"

He said there were around 150 tequila producers — one in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state, and the other 150 in the countryside. He said 260 million liters are produced from the agaves planted on 85,000 hectares, with the industry employing 35,000 people. About 37% of tequila is sold in Mexico; the rest is sold more in more than 100 other countries.

He said José Cuervo has come up with a plan looking forward to 2040 — which also would be the hundredth anniversary of his birth. At that time he would like to see Mexico have a solid, world-class domestic market — and for the people who are poor now to have joined the middle class and for there to be a true rule of law.

"Mexico is extremely rich and extremely privileged,"he said. "We have all the climates, coasts, seas, forests, deserts, natural resources, and closeness to markets."

He said Mexico needs to look at new markets with a lot of consumers, such as China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa.

A theme he used a lot in speech was "for good — and bad," for example, saying he had seen a lot of change in his life "for good — and bad." He said he hoped Mexico, through education, planning and hard work, could effect good change in quick enough order to mitigate the bad.

gaston-luken-aguilar-pieter-speyer-juan-beckmann-vidal

Gastón Luken Aguilar (left) motions while talking
with San Diego lawyer Pieter Speyer (center)
and José Cuervo President Juan Beckmann Vidal.

Institute of the Americas story on Beckmann Vidal.