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Report From Cancun

September 22, 2006 By: Mike Jaccarino Travel Agent

On site for the official opening of two Marriott properties last week, Travel Agent found Cancun almost back to its old self. The hotels are, for the most part, operational, although only 63 of the total 86 total hospitality properties have yet opened their doors. Thanks to a $22 million government beach replenishment project, the beaches look wonderful and have retained their familiar white, powdery feel. Officials report that they are even larger, at 125 feet, than prior to Wilma's landfall on Oct. 15, 2005. Almost all of the restaurants and nightclubs are once again open for business and, indeed, Travel Agent found the downtown area its same, familiar, vibrant self one night this week. On Friday, two of the resort's flagship properties, the J.W. Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort, both owned by Mexican businessman Isaac Saban, formally celebrated their reopenings with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The former actually had a soft opening of June 15 and the latter June 1. The Ritz-Carlton, another Marriott property located three doors down but with a different owner, will follow with its own formal opening next week. "We're back now. We're back new and stronger than ever," says Christopher Calabrese, general manager for both Casa Magna and the J.W. Marriott. "The destination really looks good. Everything is brand new...demand is strong. Customers want to come to Cancun."

In a way, both the J.W. Marriott and CasaMagna serve as a metaphorical proxy for the whole of the strip. They suffered incredible damage during the storm with 185-mile-per-hour winds destroying windows and allowing seawater to flood most areas. But both apparently have made a remarkable comeback. At a total cost of $100 million, the hotels look and feel like new. They have added flat-screen televisions in every room and installed hurricane proof windows throughout both properties capable of withstanding a Category 5 storm. Officials also made a host of smaller, less consequential changes, like new carpeting and furniture in all public areas.

The J.W. Marriott has hired a new spa director who has infused both the spa menu and the spa's physical appearance with a distinctly Mayan feel. But agents should know that the destination is not completely up to the pre-storm par. Many hotels are still undergoing reconstruction. The hotel adjacent to the J.W. Marriott, for instance, Cancun Palace, is a concrete skeleton upon which laborers work during the entire day. Overflowing dumpsters filled with construction refuse front many of the hotels alongside newly planted vegetation—even the ones that are formally or informally open. And while CasaMagna celebrated its official reopening Friday, work continues in earnest on the property. (Our tour guide, who led journalists on a review of both properties, says that officials are hoping to wrap up everything by October.) Marriott officials report that demand for the destination is strong, although they would not divulge numbers. J.W. Marriott, according to one hotel official, is running at about 60 percent occupancy this week, although the grounds seemed sparsely populated.

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