Los Cabos Gets It Right

Los Cabos is one of Mexico's success stories. It continues to roll along, posting yearly increases in visitor arrivals, avoiding hurricanes and social unrest, all the while fine tuning its resorts, golf courses and attractions with an eye to responsible development. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Apple Vacations has been sending clients to Los Cabos since 1985. "We've seen Los Cabos grow into a more high-end destination, with great golf courses and upscale spas," says Mark Noennig, vice president/general manager of Apple Vacations. "One of the biggest changes is the growth of the all-inclusive product, which it didn't have initially, and which our customers really like." This is reflected in Apple's Vacation Satisfaction Questionnaire, which is distributed on the return flight. Apple's clients rated Los Cabos an "excellent" destination, and 80 percent say that they would definitely go back for a return trip. Airlift to the destination isn't a problem. "We've added charter product, but a lot of the growth has been on the scheduled air side, which allowed Apple to grow."

Los Cabos is actually comprised of three destinations at the tip of the BajaPeninsula: the tourist town of Cabo San Lucas to the west of the tip, the colonial town of San Jose to the east and a 20-mile Tourism Corridor linking the two towns, where most of the region's finest oceanfront resorts are located.

Cabo San Lucas is known for its rock formations

"One of the things that makes Cabo so special is its weather; we don't have a rainy season," says Francisco Silva, general manager, Dreams Los Cabos Resort & Spa. "Our location is also a big plus. We have numerous direct flights from Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston, and we have great connections from Atlanta and Chicago."

Carriers flying into Los Cabos include Aero California, Aeromexico, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, US Airways West (America West), Continental, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Mexicana and United. Apple Vacations charters include USA3000 out of Detroit, Champion Airlines out of St. Louis and Sun Country out of Minneapolis and Dallas.

Most visitors arrive by air, although Los Cabos is also a significant cruise port, with regular calls from Silversea, Crystal and Seabourn cruise lines.

Los Cabos received 1.3 million tourists in 2006, a record for the destination, up from 1.2 million in 2005. It's important to remember that the institution of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in January requires U.S. visitors traveling by air to show a passport on their return to the U.S. This requirement will extend to cruise passengers in 2008 and land travelers in 2009.

View from a Penthouse at Villa La Estancia in Los Cabos

The LosCabosInternationalAirport is slated for an $18,225,000 expansion that will ultimately increase its arrival and departure capacity by 50 percent. The 2005-2009 Master Development Plan announced by Aeroportuario del Pacifico includes the construction of a taxiway parallel to the existing runway, expansion of airplane parking platforms and the construction of new gates. With these enhancements, the airport will ultimately increase its arrival and departure capacity by 50 percent and make it easier to handle the arrivals of private jets; Los Cabos has the second- busiest airport for private jets in Mexico (the busiest is Mexico City).

"Some flights to Los Cabos are seasonal," says Antonio Vera, vice president of marketing for the Los Cabos Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We have to work with airlines to have the same number of flights in the summer."

Group and incentives are an important market for Los Cabos. "The top 40 percent of room inventory in Los Cabos is dependent on the incentives market and groups," says Vera. "This accounts for 55 percent of business to the region."

Vera is plugged into the Los Cabos hotel scene; he's also area director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort. "Of Los Cabos' 7,500 hotel rooms, 35 percent are all-inclusive; the rest are European Plan," he says. The all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace Cabos San Lucas, is currently undergoing an expansion that will bring its room inventory up to 1,200. "The expansion of Riu will fill the destination's need for all-inclusives; I don't see more built in Los Cabos," says Vera. He also observes that there's room for five more hotel developments in the 20-mile Tourist Corridor and, in his words, "That's it."

Being at the tip of a peninsula, Los Cabos can only grow so much. Growth is now moving up the peninsula and to the East Cape, which begins east of San Jose del Cabo and extends north along the Sea of Cortes to Los Barriles and Rancho Buena Vista. The Los Cabos tourism community is in general agreement that expansion up the peninsula adds to the appeal of Los Cabos by offering visitors greater diversity and enhanced travel options.

Increasingly popular are day or overnight trips to the towns of Todos Santos and La Paz. On the Pacific side, the Mexican Government has designated Todos Santos a "Pueblo Mágico" or MagicTown, the first in Baja Sur.Pueblos Mágicos are off-the-beaten path treasures that are often overlooked by tourists. Todos Santos is only an hour's drive from Cabo San Lucas. With the increase in visitors, Todos Santos now has a number of fine restaurants, art galleries and boutique hotels.

La Paz, northeast of Los Cabos, is a tranquil port city with lots of local color as well as historic attractions. "It's currently a two-hour drive to La Paz; this will be cut to 90 minutes when the new four lane highway construction is completed," says Vera. As far as Apple Vacations offering vacations further up the peninsula in La Paz, Todos Santos and Loreto, Noennig says that the company is limited by the hotel product. "For us, hotels need to have 300 to 400 rooms, and all-inclusive properties have to be part of the mix," he says. Noennig predicts Los Cabos will continue to grow as a market for Apple. "We've seen growth out of the Midwest and northeast. It's a nice alternative to the Caribbean."

Last year Mexico dealt with its share bad press coming out of Oaxaca, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico City and Acapulco. "Los Cabos remains unaffected by these incidents," says Vera. He notes that the BajaPeninsula, being separated from mainland Mexico by the Sea of Cortes, affords it an isolated setting and distance from issues that have affected other parts of the country.

In 2006, the big news on the attractions front was the opening of Cabo Dolphins, a first for Los Cabos. The cost for a 60-minute dolphin swim is $165. Cabo Dolphins is paying a hefty 20 percent commission to travel agents: Make reservations for your clients with Mark Watson, the company's sales director ([email protected]).

Agents in search of educational opportunities have several to choose from. The Los Cabos Tourism Board partners with Destination Ventures to offer travel agent seminars. It also participates with the airlines and wholesalers servicing the destination through trade shows and fam trips for agents that provide an in-depth view of the destination. This year Los Cabos hosted its first annual Los Cabos VIP Summit, welcoming airline partners, wholesalers and top-performing agents to the destination. The exact date for the second VIP Summit hasn't been set, but it will be held in the December 7-15 window. The Los Cabos Tourism Board is seeking discounted air for invited agents who sell Los Cabos; hotel accommodations will be provided free of charge.

Los Cabos Tourism Board: 866-LOS CABOS, www.visitloscabos.org

On the Horizon

The new development of Puerto Los Cabos will be a 1,900-acre community in San Jose del Cabo comprised of three miles of beachfront property. It will include a 535-slip marina capable of handling boats ranging in size from 30 feet up to 240-foot mega-yachts. This is significantly larger than the 300-slip marina in Cabo San Lucas, although Puerto Los Cabos won't be a port of call for cruise ships. By mid-2008, the marina, shop, restaurants and two 18-hole golf courses (one designed by Jack Nicklaus, the other by Greg Norman) are expected to be completed. The complex will also include four top-brand hotels that should be finished by mid-2009. According to Vera, talks are underway with Four Seasons for one of the builds.

Pacific Monarch Resorts Inc. projects a September opening of Cabo Azul Resort & Spa. Award-winning designer Dodd Mitchell will appoint the property's 332 one-, two- and three-bedroom villas, as well as its signature restaurants, spa and wedding chapel. Expect flaming fire sculptures, playful waterscapes and artful interiors. Cabo Azul will have an oceanfront tri-level infinity swimming pool and a five-story open-air church positioned to attract the destination wedding market.

The Villa Group is preparing to open Los Cabos' largest spa facility at its enclave of villa-style resorts: Villa La Estancia, Villa del Arco and Villa del Palmar. When the spa opens in late spring, advance bookings for appointments will be able to be made via the company's web site. The Villa Group's three Cabo San Lucas properties collectively offer 845 one-, two- and three-bedroom villas, studios and penthouse suites, available for rental and commissionable to travel agents.

After a multimillion dollar renovation, the Melia Cabo San Lucas has been rebranded the ME Cabo, making it the third property within the ME by Melia portfolio of hotels and the second of the new brand's properties in Mexico. The 150-room ME Cabo has a 7,036-square-foot spa. Guests have free access to the Nikki Beach Club, which features a restaurant, poolside day beds, live music and entertainment.

Later this year, Casa del Mar will premiere the first Guerlain Spa in all of Mexico. In additon, insiders say that Starwood Hotels & Resorts is seriously looking at developing a resort on the East Cape; MayanPalace, a brand from Mayan Resorts, is confirmed for construction in this comparatively undeveloped area.