Top Ten Mexico Stories of 2016

The much-anticipated Chable Resort, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, made its debut this year outside of Merida.

As a top ten global tourism destination, Mexico is used to being in the headlines. This past year was no exception, with news of hotel openings, health warnings and culinary trends, among other developments.

Here’s a look at the top stories of 2016.

1.         Spotlight on Mexico City

The year started off with a bang for Mexico City. Among other prestigious accolades, it topped the New York Times' list of 52 places to visit in 2016. The colonial city founded in 1519 is now home to more than 21 million people. Yet, it beckons travelers to quaint and quintessentially-Mexican outposts, such as the Zocalo main plaza and the mariachi-filled Plaza Garibaldi. Restored colonial buildings, cathedrals and remnants of an ancient Aztec kingdom form the historic backbone of the city. While a cutting-edge hotel, design, culinary and architectural scene has transformed it into one of the world’s hippest places.

Home to more than 300 boroughs or colonias, the trendy attention-getters of Condesa, Roma, Juarez and Polanco retained their superstar status. On the horizon is a futuristic international airport for the dizzying megalopolis. Set for 2020 completion, it will be the most sustainable in the world.

Las Rosadas Private Resort opened this year on the Costalegre.

2.         Hotel Headlines

High-profile properties opened so frequently in 2016, it was hard to keep up with the news. Here’s the rundown. Caribbean Mexico welcomed Breathless Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa, Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, Ocean Riviera Paradise and Dreams Playa Mujeres Golf & Spa Resort. Additionally, the much-anticipated Chable Resort, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, debuted outside of Merida.

Adults-only areas were trending big this year. A number of hotels renovated or expanded to introduce them.

But it was a new category of accommodation that especially caught readers’ attention. El Dorado Maroma, a Beachfront Resort, by Karisma introduced overwater bungalows this fall. The luxurious digs include private infinity pools, glass bottom floors, and direct ladder access to the ocean as well as an overwater restaurant and overwater spa.

On the Pacific coast, several openings of note also piqued reader interest. They include Breathless Cabo San Lucas Resort & Spa, Grand Velas Los Cabos and the new Quivira Towers at the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort.

W Punta Mita debuted on the Riviera Nayarit. And Las Rosadas Private Resort opened on the Costalegre, offering an intimate luxury villa experience.

In Mexico City, the boutique Stara Hamburgo opened its doors, and has joined the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. In Mexico’s second city, the 188-room AC Hotel Guadalajara debuted in August. It’s the design-driven Marriott brand’s first venture into Mexico.

3.         Hotels on the Horizon

News and updates about future hotel projects caused quite a stir this year. Leading the way: Sandals Resorts International’s expansion into Mexico. So far, plans call for at least one newbuild hotel on the Riviera Maya north of Playa del Carmen.

Hotel activity is hot for 2017 and beyond. That’s good news for agents looking for new and exciting options for their repeat clients. On track for 2017 are UNICO 20°87°, Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Riviera Maya and Garza Blanca Resort & Spa Riviera Maya.

The St. Regis Kanai Resort, Riviera Maya and W Kanai Retreat are scheduled to open in early 2018. Joining them in the new Kanai Resort area are properties by Auberge and Park Hyatt.

Los Cabos is also set to welcome some leading hotel brands in 2017. They include the Le Blanc Spa Resort Los Cabos, the Ritz Carlton Reserve Los Cabos, Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort, Los Cabos, Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos and Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas Resort. The former VieVage Los Cabos, an Auberge Resort will open as Chileno Bay Resort & Residences.

Additional properties in the Los Cabos pipeline include Nobu Hotel Los Cabos and Montage Los Cabos. The Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas will open in 2018.

North of Puerto Vallarta, One&Only Mandarina is tentatively scheduled for a 2017 opening. Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has also announced Rosewood Mandarina, set to open in 2019. Fairmont Costa Canuva will open in 2018, as will the first phase of The Park by Cirque du Soleil. AMResorts will open the 120-suite Zoëtry Chamela Costalegre in 2018. Also in the works is One&Only Santa Maria de Xala.

Rosewood Puebla is set for a 2017 opening, as is Four Points by Sheraton Puebla. A 142-room Westin Puebla and Aloft Puebla are also in line for 2018 launches.

In Mexico City, the 290-room Sofitel Mexico Reforma will open in 2018. And a Ritz Carlton is due to open in 2019 on Paseo de la Reforma.

4.         Rebranding and Restructuring

Hotel brands made news in 2016 with rebranding and restructuring plans. They include UNICO, an adults-only new hotel concept from AIC Hotel Group. Mexico’s largest operator, Grupo Posadas, introduced La Colección. It’s a rebranding of its Fiesta Americana Resort Collection in popular beach destinations. Additionally, Original Resorts is rebranding as Original Group. The company specializes in adult-oriented hospitality concepts such as the clothing-optional Desire group.

5.         Rise in Eco-Tourism

Interest in green tourism is on the rise globally, and Mexico is no exception. In fact, it’s an industry leader in some categories. It’s home to Xcaret, the world’s first eco-park which turned 25 in 2016. Hotel Xcaret will open on the Xcaret Park grounds in 2017. The all-inclusive will be the first property to hold an EarthCheck certification for planning and design.

The once-sleepy jungle town of Tulum long ago lost its status as Mexico’s best-kept secret. In fact, TripAdvisor named it the number one destination on the rise for 2016. It remains a top choice for sustainable nature stays, albeit with a luxury twist. Recently introduced at the eco-chic Papaya Playa Project are handcrafted treehouses. Built at an eco-friendly workshop on site, the treehouses utilize locally-sourced materials and recycled wood.

The Mexican government also earned some well-deserved headlines on the eco-travel front this year. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced the creation of several new nature reserves. They include the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere. It will cover the entire Mesoamerican Reef system, protect turtle beaches in Quintana Roo state and prohibit oil exploration in the Mexican Caribbean.

The site of the One&Only Mandarina, tentatively scheduled to open in 2017. 

6.         Rise in Wellness Travel

Indigenous practices and ancient rituals have long been part of authentic Mexico tourism. But they’ve taken on a trendier status, now that wellness is on everyone’s mind. From expansive wellness programs to full-scale wellness resorts, Mexico held the spotlight this year.

It helped that the ancient Mayan practice of temazcal took the number three spot on Spafinder Wellness 365's annual Spa & Wellness Trends Report for 2016.

The ritual incorporates heat, steam, aromatics, chants and prayers under the auspices of a shaman. It’s a spa menu fixture throughout the Mayan Yucatan. Spafinder Wellness gave temazcal kudos to the Riviera Maya resorts of El Dorado Royale, the Rosewood Mayakoba and The Viceroy.

New properties came on line to expand the wellness concept even further. The above-mentioned Chable Resort and Spa is a prime example. Set on 750 acres of Mayan forest, it’s billed as a holistic wellness retreat, Chable’s focal point is a spa built beside an actual cenote. Authentic Mayan spa and healing therapies, water sports, biking, guided walks, meditation and yoga sessions are part of personalized wellness programs for guests.

7.         Culinary Tourism

Mexico City continued its ascent to the top of foodie wish lists in 2016.

“Mexico City has really exploded as far as culinary offerings. It’s a huge selling point for sophisticated travelers who are sometimes planning entire trips around regional food. You have some of the best restaurants and chefs in the world there right now,” Sean Emmerton, villa program director for Journey Mexico, told Travel Agent earlier this year.

New restaurants have sprung up in the capital city’s revitalized Juarez neighborhood, and in high-profile Condesa and Roma as well. The upscale Polanco district continues its culinary dominance with acclaimed enclaves such as Quintonil by Enrique Olvera protégé Jorge Vallejo. The restaurant ranked number 12 on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list from the British publication Restaurant.

Coming in at number five on that list is the iconic Noma in Copenhagen. An announcement this year by Noma’s chef René Redzepi’s had Mexico culinary-scene watchers drooling.

Redzepi is bringing a Noma popup to Tulum in 2017 for a seven-week stint beginning in April. The menu for the open-air venue will incorporate local Yucatan ingredients. Even with a $3,000 price tag for a table of four, tickets sold out for the entire run within a few hours.

8.       Increased Airlift

Big news on the aviation front came in the form of a landmark Air Transport Agreement this year. Taking effect in August, the accord opened up aviation markets between the U.S. and Mexico. And the airline industry wasted no time in announcing new airlift.

Interjet, Mexico’s second largest air carrier, added flights to Mexico City from Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas. It will add four new routes from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta.

Ultra low-cost Mexican carrier Volaris began service from Mexico City to Houston.

After a slight regulatory snafu, Southwest Airlines is offering new flights from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Los Cabos. And it will debut service from Oakland, California, to Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta pending approval from Mexico.

American Airlines has launched service from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta and Cancun. It also plans to launch service between Miami and Merida.

Delta has introduced daily nonstop service between New York's Kennedy airport and Cancun and between Los Angeles and Los Cabos. It will also run Saturday flights between Kansas City and Cancun.

9.         Zika Concerns

The mosquito-borne Zika virus raised global health concerns this year, especially for pregnant women. Zika surfaced in Mexico in early 2016. But quick thinking and regular updates from tourism officials helped avert a tourism crisis in the destination.

In February, a survey of more than 1,000 Travel Leaders Group agents found the virus had little impact on Mexico travel. That same month, Pleasant Holidays President and CEO Jack E. Richards noted:

“Our Mexico Tourism partners continue to demonstrate their strength in addressing travelers concerns. It’s very clear they are committed to being very proactive to reduce the risk of Zika, especially in the primary beach destinations of Huatulco, Mazatlan, Vallarta-Nayarit, Ixtapa, Cancun, Riviera Maya and Los Cabos.”

Zika eventually did appear in many of those popular destinations. But by the fall, the World Health Organization declared that it was no longer a global health emergency. Common-sense precautions against mosquito bites are still recommended for travel to Mexico, however.

10.         Taking on Trump

Mexico took on something of a punching-bag status during Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. And the anti-Mexico rhetoric didn’t go unnoticed by our neighbors south of the border. Trump’s whirlwind meeting with Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto in September did little to alleviate the tension.

Once again, Mexico’s tourism officials rose to the occasion.

Secretary of Tourism Enrique de la Madrid Cordero held meetings in Las Vegas this fall to discuss bilateral relations. His main argument: the bond between the two countries is too strong to fall victim to heated rhetoric. In published reports, De La Madrid noted that Mexico “has been portrayed as if we’re an enemy or part of a problem.” The unfair attacks, he added, could affect tourism to Mexico and vice versa.

Fortunately, the number of U.S. visitors to Mexico has maintained its healthy growth rate. The tourism powerhouse of Cancun had its best year on record. And there’s little sign that travel to the destination will suffer once Trump takes office. Mexico, noted De La Madrid, wants to build bridges instead of walls