Travel Agent usually leaves a conference with answers, but after our recent coverage of the Cancun Travel Mart Mexico Summit 2008, we came back with a question: Is the spring-break phenomenon dead in Cancun?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
If you talk to members of the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau, they’ll tell you the annual spring-break bacchanalia was washed away by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, but if you ask agents, they’ll tell you MTV and Miami college students, to name a few enablers, have kept the tradition afloat.
But both parties share one view—the predominantly negative niche market in Cancun might not be completely gone, but it certainly is no longer the destination’s bread and butter for tourism.
A marriage made in heaven is now becoming a drawn-out divorce.
A Tale of Two Opinions
According to Emilio Reyner Portes Gil, director of public relations for the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau, a hurricane in 1988 was responsible for the birth of spring break in Cancun and it was a hurricane in 2005 that washed it away.
According to Gil, it was Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 that devastated all of the hotels in Cancun and, in turn, scared away every possible market except one—the spring-break travelers. It’s hard to call beer-guzzling, wet-T-shirt-contest-loving college students “saviors,” but those travelers were responsible for the shot of adrenaline that Cancun needed in the 1980s.
“In many ways, they saved us,” Gil told us. “But as time went on, we also found that they were [pushing] all other markets away.”
And so, although spring break occurs for just one month out of the year, a stigma was born and a dark cloud hung over Cancun.
But then another dark cloud was responsible for helping chase the stigma away, Gil says. Hurricane Wilma again swept away most of Cancun’s hotel product in 2005. But this time, instead of simply rebuilding, the hotels stepped it up a notch and upgraded as well. Now, with most hotels leaning toward the luxury and family sides of the market (about 80 percent of all Cancun hotels are now five-star in rating), the hotels were shutting out most of the spring-break clients.
“I think that the student crowd still perceives Cancun as a spring-break destination,” says Greg Guiteras, senior vice president for Lorraine Travel LLC, a Signature Travel Network member, based in Coral Gables, FL. “However, hoteliers have set up things to [discourage] them, including certain age requirements that they hold all guests to. Some are so specific that in order for groups under age 21 to stay in a room, there must be one adult over 25.”
Whereas agents were booking packages for about $350 to $400 for spring-break clients, they were soon booking packages of at least $1,200 for families looking for a luxury experience, Gil says. Now, the spring-break market has shrunk so much that the market reached its lowest point in 2007. According to Gil, spring break accounted for as much as 8 percent of all of Cancun’s annual visitors from 1988 to about 2005.
Of the roughly 3.2 million people who visited the destination in 2007, a mere 1 percent were spring breakers, Gil says.
“The only problem is that not enough people know of this,” Gil told us. “They still think of spring break when they think of Cancun, and the industry needs to be aware that it is not that way anymore. We still welcome [spring-break clients], but now we are attracting markets that were scared away for some time. And that’s a good thing for Cancun and even a better thing for travel agents.”
Gary Stevens, vice president of leisure sales & marketing for Leaders in Travel Ltd., also a Signature Travel Network member, based in Great Neck, NY, sees it differently.
“I don’t see the Cancun spring-break phenomenon to be dead at all,” he told us. “While the destination has been consistently upgrading itself over the past few years—wonderful rebuilds of hotels, the beach, more upscale shops and restaurants and so on—there is still very much a spring-break scene taking place each year. I believe MTV promotes Cancun every year and it is party-central headquarters.”
But Stevens does agree that spring break shouldn’t deter clients from coming to Cancun during the other 11 months of the year.
“Outside of the spring-break focus, I think Cancun does have a gorgeous beach—far superior to that of the Riviera Maya—but for couples, romantic getaways and even family fun, the Riviera Maya has taken much of that spotlight away from Cancun as a destination in general, particularly with all the building of new resorts south of Cancun and some genuinely outstanding properties. There are clients to whom we have recommended a combination stay of both destinations in one vacation, for pampering, relaxation and exploring in the Riviera Maya and for the fun and nightlife of Cancun.”
Now that we’ve given you just a small sample of opinions on whether the spring-break stigma has taken a red-eye flight out of Cancun, we’d like feedback from our readers.
Do you think Cancun and spring break are becoming a thing of the past or is it just as much alive as it has been for the past 20 years?
Please visit www.travelagentcentral.com to give your feedback.
In the meantime, here are some other nuggets from the Cancun Travel Mart Mexico 2008 Summit.
Campeche Eyes Fairmont, Westin
Earlier in the year, we told you about the little-known Mexican destination of Mérida and now we’re giving you the heads-up on a destination about two hours away, Campeche. Like Mérida, Campeche offers access to many of Mexico’s greatest archaeological sites, eco-travel opportunities and beautiful beaches. The one attribute it has lacked, however, was major resort developments—until now. The first part of the three-phase Campeche Playa Golf, Marina, Spa & Resort is expected to be completed within the first three months of 2009. That phase will include the completion of a 500-room hotel. More importantly, the project has created a buzz from some big-name hotel players such as Fairmont and Westin, according to a source close to Campeche tourism. Our source told us the destination is in discussions with both companies, but talks are still in the preliminary phase. We’ll bring you the confirmed news as soon as we get it. The destination’s official website, www.campeche.travel, is in Spanish, but agents can also check out www.campeche.ca for information in English.
Rosewood Mayakoba, A Year Later
During our coverage of the Cancun Travel Mart Mexico Summit 2008, we sat down with representatives of Rosewood Mayakoba to see if the property is still as successful as it was when it splashed on the Riviera Maya scene in December. We found that the resort is still hot among luxury clients in the Northeast and some parts of the West Coast, and that the property’s popularity has continued to increase, since it opened a spa back in February. The spa was basically the only amenity this luxury resort lacked. Since the spa was unveiled, occupancy has been nearly at full capacity every month, we were told. Rosewood Mayakoba has 128 suites that overlook either the resort’s lagoons or the beach with views of the Caribbean Sea. Suites range in size from 800 to 3,200 square feet with an additional 200 to 400 square feet of outdoor space, including private plunge pools. Visit www.rosewoodmayakoba.com.
Le Méridien Cancun Resort & Spa
Le Méridien Cancun Resort & Spa has been a mainstay since it opened nearly 10 years ago. In fact, our guide, Adriana Vega, public relations coordinator, told us the property is planning a 10-year-anniversary celebration in December to coincide with Christmas and plans to offer client incentives. The hotel has 213 rooms, 26 of which are suites. It is ideal for families and business travelers, Vega told us. At the moment, however, warn clients that another hotel is being built directly next door. The pool area of the hotel was a bit noisy and could be a distraction for clients looking to relax in the sun, but once inside, we couldn’t hear a sound. The property has six categories, with the best coming in the form of the Presidential Suite. We didn’t have an opportunity to see it, but can still tell you that it comes with two bedrooms—one with a king-size bed and one with two double beds. The master bedroom includes a Jacuzzi. The suite also has a living room, dining room, two sofas and a 32-inch flat-screen TV. We recommend the room for small private dinners and receptions because it has 2,000 square feet and a 300-square-foot balcony. The rooms we did see were room #626, a Deluxe Room, and room #802, a Méridien Suite. The Méridien Suite has a balcony, a separate bedroom with a king-size bed or double beds and a separate living room with two sofas. The Deluxe Room was also impressive as it comes with a balcony, the option of either two double beds or one king-size bed and a 32-inch flat-screen TV. The hotel is also home to a spa with 14 treatment rooms, two of which are for couples massages, as well as a steam room and a relaxation room, which can be enjoyed for a $20 charge. This fee is separate from the massage fee. Agents should call Tanya Velazco, sales manager, at 011-52-998-881-2200, ext. 2208. Visit www.cancun.lemeridien.com.
Fiesta Americana, Coral Beach
During our coverage of Cancun Travel Mart Mexico Summit 2008, we set aside some time to take a firsthand look at an excellent property for you to sell to clients—Fiesta Americana, Coral Beach Cancun. This is a great option for families and business travelers because it offers a lot of meeting space and, more importantly, very large rooms. In fact, even the property’s standard rooms, the Junior Suites, were about the size of an apartment. The Junior Suite we saw was room #1058. We can really put this up there with one of the best standard rooms we’ve ever seen in Mexico. There are 478 of these and they come with either two doubles or a king-size bed. The room we saw had two beds and offered an incredible view of the swimming pool and the ocean from the balcony. The Master Suites are also worth pitching. They offered much more space, as well as a plasma TV that can be turned around to face the living room and the bedroom, which are not separated by a wall. We saw Master Suite room #1054 and while the balcony was just as impressive as the Junior Suites’, the most impressive feature was, surprisingly, the bathroom. From a glance, the bathroom was almost the size of the living room and had a Jacuzzi. Agents should note that the property will be undergoing a major renovation project due for completion by November 2009. Since nearly 100 suites will be renovated, the property will only offer 510 of its 602 total rooms beginning in January. Agents should contact Renata Moreira, sales manager, at [email protected].