Despite a healthy uptick in visitor numbers and optimistic outlook for 2013, what’s going down as Mexico’s most buzz-worthy milestone in 2012 is the Mayan Calendar’s swan song. For centuries, speculators across the globe debated this mammoth event. Does it represent the spiritual finale of a 5,125-year cycle and birth of another? Or does it mark doomsday?
Obviously, hospitality industry gurus are banking on the former as indicated by the massive influx of private and public tourism funds breathing fresh life into the country. Destinations are refreshing tired neighborhoods, enhancing cultural experiences, broadening recreational offerings, beefing up safety measures and launching new marketing campaigns.
On the accommodations front, the country is welcoming the debut of brands with no previous south of the border presence and a roll out of fresh concepts from deep-rooted players. As for infrastructure, President Felipe Calderon has supported an investment of nearly $400 billion over the past six years—a 23 percent increase over the previous 6-year period.
“All across the country we’re seeing a lot of investment,” says Eduardo Chaillo, executive director for the Mexico Tourism Board (visitmexico.com). “We have W opening in Mexico City and Riviera Maya, Four Seasons opening in Mayakoba, Hilton seeing its first Mexico all-inclusive in Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos seeing its first JW Marriott in 2014. There’s a trend toward luxury travel that speaks toward what we’re trying to accomplish.”
“Investment from international hotel groups is very strong,” adds Alfonso Sumano, regional director for the Americas, Mexico Tourism Board. “For example, IHG will invest approximately $500 million between 2011 and 2014 resulting in the creation of 47 new hotels, which equates to approximately 5,000 rooms.
“We are seeing high-profile openings across all sectors, which demonstrates the diversity of travelers attracted to Mexico, from those looking for a luxury break to business travelers looking for great value options.”
“With numerous authentic cultural experiences and events designed to celebrate the beginning of a new era in Maya history, 2012 should be another monumental year in Riviera Maya’s tourism,” says Dario Flota, general director of the Riviera Maya Destination Marketing Office (rivieramaya.com).
No doubt an uber hot ticket in December, the destination is looking beyond by hyping its diversity to maintain that wave of interest. Aside from Karisma premiering its 30-room El Dorado Generations (eldoradosparesorts.com) in August, 2012 saw more property enhancements than openings. The Tides Riviera Maya transformed via a major renovation and rebranding as Viceroy Riviera Maya (viceroyhotelsandresorts.com), Sandos Hotels & Resorts (sandos.com) buffed up its two Riviera Maya properties and Rosewood Mayakoba (rosewoodhotels.com) reopened in October on the heels of a $1.6 million renovation.
Sporting its positive spin to lure travelers after the calendar turns its page, Cancun’s “new beginning” campaign (cancun.travel/en) encourages visitors to explore the evolution of humanity and redefine their Mayan experience.
Here, it’s all about cutting edge, as reflected by AMResorts’ wine-inspired Secrets The Vine (secretsresorts.com) that burst onto the scene in August. The $140 million RIU Palace Peninsula (riu.com) debuted this summer too, deviating from the brand’s more traditional feel. “This Palace has a more modern and edgy style to it,” says Javier Monje, RIU’s director of contracting, U.S./Canada. “We’re seeing those who lean toward a ‘W’ but want to find that feeling with all-inclusive conveniences.”
Another addition to the hotel landscape was the transformation of the Gran Melia Cancun to the all-inclusive Paradisus Cancun Resort (paradisus.com), which opened its doors just last month.
Revving up diversions, Cancun’s new Exotic Rides allows visitors behind the wheel of glamour rides like Ferraris and Lamborghinis while accompanied by experienced drivers. And the First Annual Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival made a sumptuous splash in March.
In yet another themed move, AMResorts introduced in April a two-brand resort complex beachfront in the Hotel Zone. Secrets Vallarta Bay caters to the adults-only market, while Now Amber (nowresorts.com) is geared toward families.
In fact, when we visited the complex recently in September and got a chance to chat with Ana Santos, groups & convention sales manager, she stressed that this duo was a great fit for groups of friends with differing vacation needs.
“What makes these two resorts so unique,” she says, “is that they’re next to each other, and share a variety of restaurants and space without taking the exclusivity away from Secrets.” Adding, as you can read in the Viva Vallarta! story in our November 2012 issue—where we highlight Puerto Vallarta as the destination in Mexico to send clients to in 2013—“Couples can stay at Secrets while their friends with children can be at Now Amber.”
In March, Puerto Vallarta and neighbor Riviera Nayarit garnered prolific kudos when they hosted the first Tianguis Turistico Mexico held outside of Acapulco in the event’s 37-year history. The timing was exquisite, with PV’s historic downtown fresh from a massive overhaul of its iconic malecon—its most significant tourism investment in 20 years. Infrastructure was also bolstered, with a third bridge over the Ameca River connecting Vallarta to Banderas Bay, the new Los Muertos pier and a $5.5 million upgrade of nearby Highway 200.
As with Cancun, Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board (puertovallarta.com) has also launched a multi-faceted rebranding. Guillermo Ohem, the board’s managing director, notes that the “Puerto Vallarta, Live It More Than Once” slogan lives up to its claim. “Especially with our world-renowned culinary and arts status, our festivals have much appeal to the returning visitor market,” he says.
Headlining a bevy of eco-offerings is El Salado Estuary’s Venture Into The Salado program and Vallarta Adventures’ new Extreme Adventure with 4,000-ft. speed-demon zipline.
Just north, Riviera Nayarit continues to market itself as an upscale region with numerous luxe resorts as well as boutique hotels. “We’re high-end but still affordable, and we’re reaching out to the U.S. market in particular,” says Marc Murphy, director of Riviera Nayarit Convention & Visitors Bureau (rivieranayarit.com).
Property updates include the reopening of all-inclusive Occidental Grand Nuevo Vallarta (occidentalhotels.com), formerly the Allegro Nuevo Vallarta, late last year; the renovation of Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita (fourseasons.com); the addition of 56 suites at Punta Mita’s La Tranquila (latranquila.com.mx); the reopening of the re-flagged Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta (hardrockhotels.com), formerly Vallarta Palace; the $30 million upgrade at Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa (palladiumhotelgroup.com) and the 2013 opening of a 450-room Iberostar (iberostar.com) property near Punta Mita.
“Our strategies in the last few years have been to concentrate on events, media trips and bringing agents down to the region,” Murphy says. “The Riviera Nayarit is a place that you have to come and live it to appreciate it.”
Acapulco also put a premium on sprucing up this year via Recovery of the Traditional Zone, the celebrated neighborhood that’s home to the legendary La Quebrada cliff divers, famous Hotel Los Flamingos (hotellosflamingos.com) and the retro-chic Hotel Boca Chica (hotel-bocachica.com).
To spread the word, the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office (rememberacapulco.com) has teamed with the State of Guerrero to unveil a new consumer tourism campaign focused on this revitalization. “Over the past few years, Acapulco has faced many challenges,” says Graciela Baez Ricardez, the state’s secretary of tourism. “But we hope that with the launch of this new campaign, travelers will be reminded of the glamour that once drew the world’s most elite jetsetters here to enjoy our world-class hospitality, charm and beauty.”
To ease touring, infrastructure enhancements include the new ACABUS running from the Traditional Zone to Diamond Zone, and construction of a new tunnel connecting the Golden Zone tourism area to Diamond Zone.
From a property standpoint, Turtle Dunes Country Club & Golf Course opened in late-February on the grounds of the legendary Fairmont Acapulco Princess (fairmont.com). And Banyan Tree Cabo Marques (banyantree.com), Hotel Encanto (hotelencanto.com.mx) and Holiday Inn La Isla (holidayinn.com) deliver fresh accommodation options.
Thanks to $250 million dollars in government funds to help prepare for June’s G20 Summit, Baja California Sur has opened a highly anticipated four-lane highway stretching from Cabo San Lucas to La Paz. Visitors reap the benefits since the road slashes travel time in half between Los Cabos and Todos Santos or La Paz.
The bureau’s new advertising and marketing campaign targeting North America travelers promotes its plethora of offerings. “Los Cabos is a distinct product that offers a variety of vacation options,” says Alberto Coppola, president of Los Cabos Convention & Visitors Bureau (loscabos.com). “This new campaign allows us to introduce our diversity to a wider audience.”
Arguably, no other Mexico destination has so aggressively addressed its room inventory over the past few years. On the heels of opening Grand Solmar Land’s End (grandsolmarresort.com), Secrets Marquis Los Cabos and Holiday Inn Resort Los Cabos last year, it saw a $10 million renovation of Wyndham Cabo San Lucas Resort (wyndham.com) and opening of Marriott Fairfield Inn (marriott.com) On the books for 2013 are Secrets Puerto Los Cabos, The Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Delano Los Cabos (ritzcarlton.com) and The Resort at Diamante (diamantecabosanlucas.com).
Also turning heads is its foodie focus. Serving consumable gusto to the summer, Capella Pedregal’s (capellahotels.com) inaugural A Taste of Capella tapped into the talents of A-team master chefs for five days of exquisite cuisine. And Los Tamarindos Organic Farm in San Jose del Cabo offers tours and personal cooking classes with chef Enrique Silva.
While 2012 sizes up as another banner year with a substantial boost from the calendar curious, Mexico expects 2013 to reap even more progress toward its goal of becoming one of the world’s top five tourist destinations.