|Family-friendly Cancun appears to be bouncing back nicely.|
The latest advisory for Mexico (an extension of the one from late last year) was issued in April. However, travelers, more geographically savvy than ever and advised by some highly educated agents and operators, haven’t let this get in the way of their well-earned trip to the country. Last year, more than 22 million foreign tourists visited Mexico and the numbers are nearing those of the country’s glory days.
Meanwhile, the authorities are working closely with the destinations pointed out by the travel advisory to ensure that there are necessary arrangements in place to address any safety concerns. In any case, most of Mexico’s tourism hot spots are hundreds of miles from the Mexico/U.S. border, from where the majority of incidents have been reported. The tourism board asks all its visitors to exercise the same safety precautions they would when visiting any destination within or outside their own country. In addition, Mazatlan and Acapulco are currently undergoing a transformation as infrastructure modernization and security and business development continue to be key focus areas.
And after speaking with various operators, agents and tourism representatives, Travel Agent learned that the advisory, which should have been the latest blow to Mexico’s tourism business, has virtually been a non-issue. The country is determined to bounce back from a tumultuous period that started in 2009 when the economic crisis, swine flu and border violence all wreaked havoc on its tourism industry.
“Our reservations department is reporting that very few calls are coming in regarding safety in Mexico,” says Tim Mullen, Apple Vacations’ co-president. “It seems to have quieted down in the past few months. Sales believes consumers are still asking, but the travel agents are well-versed in how to sell Mexico. Travel agents know their geography, and with the excellent value we see coming out of Mexico right now, they are equipped to educate and overcome any client concerns.”
The U.S. Department of State issued a warning last September and then updated it in April to include Tamaulipas and Michoacán, as well as parts of the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and Jalisco. On its website, it offered details on these and other areas where travelers should exercise caution.
“We really have seen no negative impact from the most recent travel warning,” says Brian Hegarty, director of product development for MLT Vacations. “Our overall business to Mexico continues to grow stronger compared to first-quarter trends, and most of the major Mexico destinations are seeing positive trends for summer travel, with Cancun, Riviera Maya and Los Cabos performing the strongest.”
Many of the major resorts have reported impressive visitor numbers during the first quarter of the year. In fact, 90 percent occupancy rates for Easter Week based on first-quarter bookings have set many resorts, both big and small, up for a strong 2011.
“I think the consumer is getting a lot better with being able to recognize exactly how far the places they are visiting in Cancun and Mexico in general are from the area where these incidents are taking place,” says Christian Rodriguez, director of sales and marketing for Villa Palmar Cancun. “I think a lot of the hotel numbers are beginning to return to 2008—before all the bad stuff began coming out of Mexico.”
Also, several major hotel chains are investing in Mexico and are set to open new properties in the near future. Recently, W Hotels announced plans to open properties in Mexico City and Riviera Maya by 2014 and Hilton Worldwide signed a franchise development deal for the DoubleTree by Hilton Querétaro. This four-story new-build property, scheduled to open this summer, will be the first DoubleTree by Hilton in Mexico. Openings of DoubleTree properties in Merida and Mexico City will follow later t year.
Additionally, as a further testament to Mexico’s long-standing reputation as a travel destination offering top-quality, unique and best-in-class resorts and hotels, two more Mexican properties bagged the coveted AAA Five Diamond rating. The Le Blanc Spa Resort in Cancun and Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort Riviera Maya join 12 other Mexican hotels that have already earned this distinction. Mexico also has four AAA Five Diamond restaurants.
“While Cancun and Riviera Maya continue to be our leading destinations, we have seen a nice increase in our numbers to Los Cabos,” says John Hanratty, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Travel Impressions. “Because Los Cabos markets itself as its own destination and because the Baja peninsula is often perceived by travelers as an extension of California, it has not been as affected as some of the other destinations.”
Currently, Mexico is the second-most visited country for cruise travelers. In February, the average expenditure of cruise travelers to Mexico was $90.70, an increase of 4.2 percent in comparison to the same month last year and an increase of 12.4 percent to February 2009.
Several airlines recently launched nonstop flights to Mexico. Most notably, Virgin America began its service from San Francisco International Airport to Cabo San Lucas in December. Many other airlines, including American Airlines and Continental, are considering adding to their existing Mexico routes.
Work to be Done
Despite a resurgence in numbers, Mexico is not out of the woods yet. Many hoteliers had cut their rates in the past two years to keep their heads above water and they aren’t expecting to get back to the rates of 2008 for at least another two.
“As far as tourism arrival numbers go, it looks like we are pretty much back to the 2008 numbers, which was really our main goal for a long time,” says Roldofo Lopez Negrete Coppel, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board. “But now the hoteliers are faced with the challenge of getting their rates back to where they were in 2008 and that will take some time.”
Also, according to Apple Vacations’ Mullen, summer travel to Mexico, for some operators, seems to be on a slight decline, mainly due to misconceptions about the warnings.
|Ecotourists are among the travelers attracted to Riviera Maya.|
“While winter business has been up in passenger volume, the summer is seeing a bit of a decline,” says Mullen. “Family travel and first-time travelers to Mexico are the issues. Apple continues to dispel these negative perceptions at every level—from marketing, public relations, sales calls to even live radio broadcasts with group come-alongs.” Business will surely return to its peak, he adds, as long as agents remain active in spreading the word that all tourist destinations in Mexico are completely safe.
“My clients are still hesitant to return to Mexico,” says Marianne Braly of Now Voyager Travel, an agency based in Huntington Beach, CA. “I am suggesting Mexico like crazy, because there are lots of great deals out there with hoteliers and tour operators offering all kinds of discounts to woo back the wary traveler. I believe sales will start to increase in my office.”
|Cabo San Lucas has benefited from Los Cabos’ strong showing in the face of recent advisories.|