As summer travel season gets underway, Cancun and the Riviera Maya are on a roll. Spring and the Easter travel season brought record hotel occupancy rates to both destinations. Tourism officials say they’re on track to exceed last year’s total visitor numbers of nearly five million each.
With hotels, attractions and events more diverse than ever, agents have their work cut out for them.
“Clients want to go to Cancun. But nine out of 10 don’t know what the Riviera Maya is. When I explain it to them, the Riviera Maya is more to their liking,” Kari Jevert, owner of All About Vacations, tells Travel Agent.
While Cancun is a concrete jungle to some, it’s expanding appealingly to the north.
“I put clients in Playa Mujeres and they love it. Finest Playa Mujeres is very popular, as is the Secrets Playa Mujeres. I sell a lot of AMResorts,” said Jevert.
The Playa Mujeres area is “still Cancun,” said Mario Cruz, concept manager for Original Resorts.
“As you know, Cancun is shaped like an upside-down number seven. Costa Mujeres, Isla Mujeres and Playa Mujeres are right in front of the Hotel Zone. And then you have Puerto Juarez. That’s the fishing village in between the Hotel Zone and Playa Mujeres. That’s also part of Cancun and it’s now developing. Each destination has something of its own to offer,” Cruz tells Travel Agent.
In the case of Puerto Juarez, there’s a new hotel in the works. The 278-room La Playa Cancun will be the first new property there in 20 years. Nearby projects underway include the 753-room Hotel RIU Dunamar, set to open in December 2017, and Grand Palladium, set for 2018 launch. The new Mexican upscale brand Atelier de Hoteles plans to open Atelier Playa Mujeres in December 2017.
For Meg Austin of The Travel Society, the Riviera Maya is the area’s top draw.
“The Riviera Maya is one of my favorite places on earth. It gets very hot in July and August, but it’s still a great value, and clients are excited to go,” said Austin.
An avid scuba diver, Austin is a nationally-recognized expert in Caribbean dive vacations. A particular client favorite is the Cenote Dos Ojos in the Akumal area.
“I take clients there who have an interest in diving. The non-divers can go snorkeling. There’s a new museum there that is incredible. It’s a tiny place, but it shows how the cenotes formed when meteorites hit. And they have a 14,000 year-old female skeleton preserved from the Ice Age,” said Austin.
Holbox Island northwest of Cancun is another Austin favorite. Tourism officials are promoting it as a hammock-on-the-beach summer haven for romance travelers. It’s car-free, and features some unique boutique properties.
“Holbox is in my opinion what I thought Tulum would be before it became so big. It’s not yet a place I’d bring families with young kids. But, it definitely has an audience,” said Austin.
Families aren’t lacking for summer activities, though. The Cancun Convention & Visitor’s Bureau is promoting attractions such as the Crococun Zoo in Puerto Morelos and Tortugranja in Isla Mujeres. Also, Xcaret Park recently opened a “World of Children” addition. It’s designed for kids between the ages of six and 12. Features include hanging bridges, cenote excursions and a parakeet habitat.
For the older kids (and brave parents), a new waterslide awaits on the Riviera Maya. The aquatic Xel-Há Park will debut Faro-Tobogán this summer. It’s the world’s fourth tallest waterslide, at 141 feet tall. Riders will rush down at 26 feet per second, ending the ride in a cenote. The slide is part of a new park attraction that includes tunnels and underwater sculptures.
Whether clients prefer Cancun and its environs or the Riviera Maya, new airlift will make it easier for them to get there.
Spirit Airlines is enhancing its offerings to Cancun. Two new routes will launch from Baltimore/Washington (BWI) and Chicago O’Hare. As of this fall, the airline will fly one daily round-trip from each city. It’s Spirit’s first international route from both cities.
Much to the delight of tourism officials, Spirit joins a growing list of airlines serving Cancun. American, Frontier and United offer non-stop service from Chicago O'Hare. Southwest has a non-stop from Chicago Midway. From BWI, Spirit is up against Southwest and Delta. The latter offers seasonal weekly service.
Known as an “ultra low-cost carrier,” Spirit serves Cancun from six U.S. cities.