Tianguis Roundtable: Celebration Travel, Los Cabos on the Rise (VIDEO)

Gerardo Llanes, Mexico Tourism Board; John Caldwell, MLT Vacations; Tim Mullen, Apple Vacations and Jeff Clarke, Travel Impressions.
Gerardo Llanes, Mexico Tourism Board; John Caldwell, MLT Vacations; Tim Mullen, Apple Vacations and Jeff Clarke, Travel Impressions.

All week we're running the highlights from our recent roundtable discussion at Tianguis, which drew top tour operators, hoteliers and the Mexico Tourism Board together to discuss trends, market dynamics and the country’s very bright future for tourism. We've already taken a look at Mexico's stellar travel growth -- here we talk the rise in celebration travel, plus an inside look at the Los Cabos recovery. 

In addition to destination weddings, AMResorts is seeing a surge in celebration travel. “A lot of the requests that we’re getting are, ‘My last kid graduated from college, so we’re all getting together and going away,’ or ‘It’s my husband’s 50th birthday and we’re planning a surprise party,’” said Colette Baruth, VP of sales and marketing, AMResorts..

The additional airlift is also pulling in a second stratum of the American consumer who didn’t have access to Mexico in the past, she said. The quest for experiential travel is spurring the resort company to add in opportunities to take in local adventures, for example, in the Cancun/Riviera Maya region, whale shark watching has become popular.

“We’ve actually seen entire honeymoons planned around the whale shark season. That clearly is a lifetime experience,” she noted. Because AMResorts has seen that they’re getting a new “very investigative, experiential client, who is perhaps better educated than in the past,” the company has added in a “Sip, Savor, and See” program, which allows guests to go to another AMResorts hotel for dinner. “We’ve seen that people who are away for a romantic getaway or an anniversary celebration will go to dinner at a family resort to see where they should take the kids. It’s a curiosity factor more than anything,” she said.

Federico Moreno-Nickerson, director, product development, Caribbean and Mexico, Classic Vacations, raved about the fact that the all-inclusive resorts have raised the bar in Mexico. “They’re not just about free meals. They don’t just have kids programs, they have toddlers and teens programs. They have intensive sports programs or you can just sit in a lounge and paint. It’s amazing,” he said, noting that the culinary experience at many of Mexico’s all-inclusives is comparable to those found on cruise lines. “Look at the AAA awards. The product has evolved to a level of sophistication and specialization that we’ve never seen before in Mexico, which attracts people to be willing to pay a higher ADR, to stay longer and to bring in more members of the family,” said Moreno-Nickerson.


Kudos for the Cabo Campaign

All of the roundtable participants lauded the efforts of the Mexico Tourism Board for its consistency in messaging in the marketplace and particularly for its efforts immediately after Hurricane Odile hit Cabo in September.

MTB officials immediately met with tour operators, just three days after the storm to implement the “Los Cabos #Unstoppable” campaign, which provided real-time updates on the status of the destination, with photos and video. It also provided constant updates on the reopening of the area’s hotels.

The efforts have paid off greatly. Gerardo Llanes of the MTB said that Cabo ended 2014 just slightly below the previous year. “There was very quick action from everybody,” noted Llanes, who said he cautioned Cabo hotels not to sacrifice rate as they were going through the recovery process. “It’s been very positive, and, most importantly, the rate has gone up.”

Apple Vacations President Tim Mullen said the success of bringing Cabo back so quickly after Odile “was a classic example of everybody working together. We heard about the results of the hurricane and we all met in New York and put that ‘Unstoppable’ campaign together. From my experience in this particular case, it was the government getting everybody together and saying, ‘Here’s what happened. Here’s what the plans are.’ That’s what really was the key.” Because an action plan was implemented so quickly, said Mullen, a rumor mill or media frenzy about the storm couldn’t even begin. The results of the efforts have paid off. Mullen said demand for Cabo is as good as it was before the hurricane.

“Every time I come down to Mexico I have a fantastic experience, a more diverse experience.”
— John Caldwell, MLT Vacations

Sun Country Vacations President Larry Chestler echoed that communication efforts are what kept Cabo strong. “We really believe that the ‘Unstoppable’ campaign was exactly on target and really was effective,” he said. Sun Country maintained its full schedule into the destination and was very happy with the results, he said. “I think that campaign was brilliant.”

Jeff Clarke said his company, Travel Impressions, hosted its “Best of the Best” travel agent event in Cabo the week before Thanksgiving, which had a great spill-off effect. “That really did a good job of getting a lot of the movers and shakers in the distribution channel to see how great of a destination it was and although there was damage, there were areas that weren’t damaged as much. They saw it was still open for business,” he said.

In addition to setting up 18 “real-time” cameras in Cabo so consumers could see for themselves what the destination looked like, the MTB also launched a “Selfie” campaign featuring celebrities such as Mario Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Rosario Dawson and Nick Jonas. Another social media campaign encouraged visitors to upload selfies while in Cabo so those back home could see for themselves that the destination was open for business.