Mexican Caribbean Forks over Big Bucks to Draw U.S. Tourists
Thousands of U.S. travelers will pack their beach clothes and head to Cancun’s sun-soaked coastal resorts for Thanksgiving and Christmas getaways.
The popular Mexican vacation spot tops the international destinations where Americans plan to spend the holidays, according to Airlines Reporting Corp., which tracks sales of airline tickets. It ranks as the No. 1 destination for both Thanksgiving week and the Christmas-New Year’s period.
And that’s a welcome ending to what’s been a challenging year for the region known as the Mexican Caribbean, where 80% of its economy is reliant on tourism and more than 10,000 new hotel rooms are under construction or planned in the next few years.
It’s had to contend with a triple play of troubles in 2019: Smelly seaweed invaded its typically pristine beaches during the summer months, the Mexican government redirected a $300 million fund previously dedicated to promoting the country’s top sites, and cartel-fueled violence spilled into areas near resort towns to further stoke travelers’ ever-present crime concerns.
Major U.S. airlines are crucial to the cause, she said, ticking off a list of new flights being launched or bigger planes replacing smaller ones on existing routes. American Airlines will add a five-day-a-week Cozumel route from Miami. Southwest Airlines is adding new Cancun routes from Dallas, Austin, Nashville, Milwaukee and San Antonio, and a Cozumel flight from Houston.
Six out of 10 visitors to Mexico end up in Quintana Roo, a region that hosts about 30,000 destination weddings each year. Besides the U.S., visitors come from Canada, the UK, Columbia, Spain, France and other parts around the globe.
The U.S. market, which typically accounts for about 4 million visitors, was a little soft this year, she said. She cited the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft as one factor because it forced carriers like American, Southwest and United to operate with reduced capacity, including the cutting of some secondary connections.
For next year, the state government ordered two barges that’ll float offshore to harvest seaweed before it arrives on beaches. The barges cost about $750,000 each.
Luxury tour operator Journey Mexico posts regular updates on the state of sargassum. In a Nov. 15 post, it showed seaweed-free images taken at Riviera Maya and Isla Holbox beaches.
The Yucatan Train
Quintana Roo took a $12 million to $13 million hit to its annual promotion budget after the election of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
One of the signature proposals of his campaign was to shift the nation’s tourism budget to building a “Mayan train" to link tourist hot spots and spur development along the Yucatan Peninsula. The original plan for a 948-mile route was scaled back in June in a cost saving move.
The train could greatly benefit her region, but there are a lot of indigenous communities against it because it’s going to impact their areas. Preliminary studies are being done on the train’s sustainability and she said there is no firm time frame for when it’ll be built or completed.
Developers aren’t waiting for the train’s arrival. Earlier this year, for example, Palladium Hotel Group invested $280 million and opened a new 1,139-room all-inclusive resort in Costa Mujeres.
Hotel construction throughout the Caribbean region was up nearly 17% in October, according to hotel data firm STR. Mexico led with 16,303 rooms under construction.
Hotel occupancy rates in Quintana Roo typically run in the 80% range. STR said those rates dipped below 70% during the three-month period from April to June, when the sargassum invasion received extensive attention.
Source: The Dallas Morning News