It depends, of course, on the type of experience clients are looking for. If brand loyalty is important, they can enjoy the big brands at either location. But, in the choice between Cancun and Los Cabos, for example, Ella Messerli has some thoughts.
She may be a bit biased, however. She’s lived in Los Cabos for 16 years, the last five as manager of Hotel El Ganzo in San Jose del Cabo.
The 70-room boutique is an artsy alternative to the big-brand all-inclusives. An ongoing artist-in-residence program, live concerts by trendy acts and an on-site recording studio are all part of the mix. Newly launched are a culinary artist series and small-group speaker program on current issues. The inaugural talk was from Eva Hughes, former CEO of Conde Nast Mexico and Latin America. She spoke about women in the workplace.
Back to the debate.
“When you compare Cancun and Los Cabos, they’re completely different,” said Messerli. "One feature that Los Cabos offers that eastern does not is a varied geography. We have the expanse of desert, ocean and mountains. Here, you see water wherever you go. The east coast is flat, you have no vantage point."
Still, when it comes to long stretches of white sandy beach and aquamarine water, it’s hard to beat Cancun. The destination continues to expand on multiple fronts to keep up with client demand, according to Cancun Tourism Board Director and CEO Lizzie Cole.
Cole tells Travel Agent about one interesting trend.
“We’re seeing something new with hotels downtown,” said Cole. "A lot of them have been open less than three or four years; many appeal to business or budget travelers. But, an increasing number of leisure travelers are staying downtown for a few days to do all their touring. They’re going to use the hotel just to sleep in, so why pay for the all-inclusive amenities? They’ll move to the all-inclusives after they’ve done all the archaeological sites and other destinations."
She added, “I made a presentation to agents in Atlanta not long ago. Many told me they didn’t even know there were hotels downtown.”
Another option growing in popularity, said Cole, is a cooking school excursion for small groups.
“Mexico Lindo cooking school close to Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun is one very good choice. The Ritz-Carlton also has a great school. You can call and make a reservation. They have an amazing chef and culinary center. They take you on a journey to discover ingredients and really experience the flavors of Mexico,” said Cole.
When it comes to activities, Los Cabos is no slouch.
“We don't have pyramids and ancient ruins. But, we do have a lot of history. And, we definitely have nature here, very up close,” said Messerli. "You have every type of water sports, birdwatching, kayaking on rivers, and deserts and mountains for hiking. We also have local artisanal farms and restaurants, which are very popular for special events. It’s a much more three-dimensional experience. The geography and ocean views make you feel like you've traveled away from where you live. And, everything is nearby. In Cancun, you have to get on a bus and drive a few hours."
Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas Resort is one of many new properties launching in Los Cabos this year. The first phase of the 834-acre master-planned development opened in January, with 89 suites.
Architects incorporated dunes, dramatic arroyos and the Pacific shore in designing structures and surrounding grounds. Beachside, the holistic Los Cabos Spa offers massages and rituals using local organic ingredients.
An 18-hole golf course by Greg Norman is set to open in November.
Ricardo Orozco, Solmar Hotel & Resorts' vice president of operations, says visitors are looking for something other than a row of hotels when they vacation.
“Clients are interested in tranquility and a true Baja experience and atmosphere,” said Orozco. "The hotel corridor used to be the most exclusive area here, but it’s losing momentum. You have a bunch of buildings right after the other, and that no longer appeals to everyone."
Both Los Cabos and Cancun have had their share of safety and security concerns in the past year. The latest State Department Travel Advisory accorded them a “Level 2” assessment. It comes with the advice to exercise increased caution and awareness of a destination’s heightened risks.
“Anybody who says the security problems aren’t true is lying,” said Messerli. "There are some issues. That’s what happens when you have growth. When I first got to Los Cabos, we were a town of 60,000. Now, we are 325,000 at last count. Where my staff lives is mostly in the barrios. They’re a distance away, where tourists don’t go. But, things have happened there and measures have been taken. We no longer see any of the military people around. There was a spurt when you saw them. But, these security issues have made everyone more nurturing of hotel guests. We guide them, check on them. Nothing happens to tourists here. You can’t say the same of other popular destinations around the world."