Mexico’s famous beaches, family-friendly resorts and dedicated kids’ programs make it a perennial favorite for family getaways. But the fun needn’t begin and end within resort walls. The country’s cultural, archeological, culinary and artistic attractions are more accessible than ever. Here’s why Mexico is such a great choice for your family travel clients.
Interest in Mexico continues on the upswing, and that’s good news for travel sellers. The country posted record growth in tourist visits last year. Those numbers were especially strong in family-friendly destinations. According to the Mexico Tourism Board, nearly three million travelers from the U.S. visited Cancun in 2014. That’s three times the number of visitors to the second-most popular destination, Mexico City. Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta were third and fourth, respectively, in number of U.S. visitors.
“Family travel is our most important niche and it’s probably the most important overall for Mexico,” Angelica Espinosa, sales and marketing manager for Catherwood Travels, tells Travel Agent.
Mexico’s hospitality is oft-cited as the key to its success, but history and geography are star attractions as well.
The country’s 32 states hold 32 UNESCO World Heritage sites. That’s the fifth-largest number in the world, the same as India. Mexico’s coastal waters are known as “the world’s aquarium” for their biodiversity. Its mountains, jungles and deserts are the stuff of legend. And it retains rich influences of an ancient, indigenous and colonial past.
For Randy Otts, owner of 2 Getaway Travel in Houston, TX, Mexico is a best-seller. And family trips to Mexico are a no-brainer.
“Mexico understands the family market, and that makes it so much easier for travel professionals to sell,” says Otts. What he sells a lot of these days is the Riviera Maya, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos.
“I push Mazatlan quite a bit, the colonial city on the beach. It has a lot to offer and I love it there,” says Otts.
Powerhouse Destinations for Families
The powerhouse destinations for families, of course, are Cancun and the Riviera Maya. The allure is understandable.
“The new generation of properties on the Riviera Maya is pretty phenomenal for families. They’ve all clued in to the fact that families often travel in large groups. Resorts feature connecting rooms or three-and four-bedroom suites,” says Otts.
For Sue Burcaw’s clients, the Caribbean beaches are the big draw.
“People want that beautiful calm water and white sand that you find in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Other destinations such as Puerto Vallarta are great, but the beaches tend to be rougher and rockier,” says Burcaw, a travel consultant with All-Ways Travel in West Berlin, NJ.
Ease of access and all-inclusive value are top reasons why Lindsay Powers, team leader with Liberty Travel in White Plains, NY, sells Cancun and the Riviera Maya.
Finding the right match for a client still takes experience and expertise, though.
“It’s important to have a conversation about what the clients expect from the vacation. Are they the type that wants to send the kids away or play with them all day? There are so many options. I’m always trying to stay on top of what’s new, what’s up and coming,” says Powers.
Children’s Programs and Excursions
In the “what’s new, up and coming” category, put kids programming on top. Not the traditional all-day clubs that have been around forever, but the new breed of clubs designed to encourage bonding between adults and children. As an example: Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancun Resort and Spa will open the largest kids’ club in the Caribbean this summer. The 50,000-square-foot expanse will highlight activities that parents and kids can do together.
Family-friendly activities extend beyond the comfort of a managed kids’ program, however.
“The family activities that we can sell in Mexico are always expanding. Most clients will do at least one or two. The most popular are dolphin swims, and some type of snorkeling excursion. Water parks such as Xel-Ha and Xcaret are very much in demand,” said Burcaw.
Otts sells zip-lining, parasailing and snorkeling. He also books a lot of tee times for family members that can sneak away for a few rounds of golf.
“Consumers are savvy to the great service levels in Mexico and they appreciate the family-oriented emphasis. Look at what’s available in terms of family concierges, kids’ amenities, water parks and surf camps. You see new things coming up all the time. There are so many options for families these days,” Michael Schmeltzer, president of American Airlines Vacations, tells Travel Agent.
In terms of options, agents should keep in mind the range of possibilities with cultural travel.
“Don’t underestimate the interests of kids, teens and young adults. Exposing them to cultural, educational travel can be life changing, and there’s no better place for that than Mexico,” said Stephanie Schneiderman, owner of Tia Stephanie Tours.
While most kids won’t jump for joy at the mention of “culture” or “education,” it’s all in the presentation.
“The secret is to plan a trip that features interactive activities and surprises,” said Espinosa.
Surprises can come in many forms. Examples from Espinosa’s company include a bike tour of a colonial city; a private family kayaking expedition through a mangrove forest; and a horseback ride through the jungle that ends with a picnic.
“It’s important not to simply drag kids around to archaeological zones filled with tourists. At some of them, such as Chichen Itza, you aren’t even allowed to climb anymore. But there are over 1500 archaeological sites in the Yucatan alone. We can arrange private visits. If you go to Mayapan, you can be the only ones visiting. The kids will feel like they’re mini-Indiana Jones,” says Espinosa.
In addition to Maya pyramids, Schneiderman’s company takes visitors to ancient caves, ceremonial centers and fiber plantation haciendas. Families can learn to salsa dance in Merida and prepare authentic Yucatan dishes.
Above all else, it’s the natural wonders of Mexico that inspire the imagination, says Schneiderman.
“Kids go crazy with the cenotes in the Yucatan. When you tell them that they were the sacred portals of the Maya, the entry into the underworld, it imparts such a magical aura,” she says.
Colonial cities, such as Oaxaca also hold a unique allure.
“Oaxaca is a cultural immersion that has so much appeal for kids. They can take cooking classes, learn about the Zapotec and Mixtec people, visit local markets, even meet artisans on the Craft Route and work with them,” says Schneiderman. In Huatulco, on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast, families can explore seven legendary bays, visit a mountainside coffee farm and ride the rapids of Rio Copalita, before it empties into the sea.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the most lasting vacation memories.
“One of our recent young travelers learned that the Quechquemitl garment she selected to take home was worn only by the elite women in the pre-Hispanic era. This made her wear the garment with great pride and glee. She became a Zapotec princess,” says Schneiderman.
Top Multigenerational Trends in Mexico
Jack E. Richards, president and CEO, Pleasant Holidays, tells us his company is “focusing on multigenerational travel in 2015 more than before. We see lots of interest on resorts with one-, two- and three-bedroom units and connecting rooms. Mexico is ideal for multigenerational travel and the resorts are adapting to attract more of that market.”
Among the new products Pleasant is offering, “We’ve added new hotels and resorts," Richards says. The newest of these, having just opened in February, is the family-friendly Finest Playa Mujeres in Cancun.
Darlene Wood, a team leader with Liberty Travel in Nanuet, NY, says she is seeing more multigenerational groups where the “kids” are all adults. And if there are actual children in the group, there’s no rush to send them off to the kid’s clubs of yesteryear.
“Clients are asking what kind of pools there are for the adults and kids to have fun together. They like to do things as a family,” says Wood. As in prior years, all-inclusives in the Yucatan are top draws for Wood’s clientele. But she’s noticed some variations. For one thing, clients are interested in venturing out more than they used to.
“We have customers that may stay at an all-inclusive for the convenience. But they go out into town to explore restaurants that they’ve heard about. And they’re taking more excursions over to Chichen Itza or Tulum. Not as many simply get to the resort and stay put,” says Wood.