Mexico’s tourism industry appears to be recovering dramatically after several worrisome years. Some travelers may be staying away because they’re afraid for their safety, thinking drug cartels are wreaking havoc from coast to coast. But Mexico received 23.7 million visitors in 2013, 18 percent more than in 2012. From the looks of things at the recent Tianguis Turístico, Mexico’s largest tourism trade show, the country is on a rebound.
Now in its 39th year, Tianguis brings together travel agents, travel wholesalers, destination agencies, hotel and airline companies and the press. Many of those who attend annually seal friendships as well as deals, and displays from nearly all of Mexico’s states remind even frequent visitors of the country’s rich cultural and natural opportunities. The state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancún and the Riviera Maya, hosted this year’s show, and attendees took full advantage of gorgeous beaches and lavish resorts. But reminders of ancient cultures and traditions shone through the region’s modern trappings.
President Enrique Peña Nieto kicked off the show with an inaugural speech announcing plans to invest $13.8 million in tourism infrastructure. A few days later, Secretary of Tourism Claudia Ruiz Massieu announced that the show attracted buyers and press from 61 countries including Vietnam, Nigeria and Norway. Conferences covered a wide range of topics including strategies to increase tourism from Russia to programs to enhance attractions in Chihuahua, Michoacán and other culturally rich destinations. Here are a few of the major announcements.
Culture and Nature in Quintana Roo
The most exciting development, in my opinion, combines Mayan culture and ecotourism in a program called Maya Ka’an. After many attempts, government agencies, eco-tourism groups and private businesses have come together with a solid plan for ensuring the sustainability of the Riviera Maya’s natural attributes and its Mayan communities. Small tour companies and cooperativas are offering guided adventures to remote villages where healers demonstrate their use of local flora and homemakers teach guests how to cook in an earthen oven and weave sisal into ropes. Other tours visit small fishing villages where electricity is scarce and families rely on gathering lobster and conducting fly-fishing tours for visiting anglers.
Kayaking, bird watching and nature tours focus on Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserve, protecting a precious million acres of lagoons, canals, mangroves, and reefs along a relatively undisturbed Riviera Maya coastline south of Tulum. And, for extreme adventurers, there’s a nighttime bike ride to a spooky cave where snakes hang from crevices in the cave’s ceiling as they catch and devour flying bats.
Local licensed guides lead visitors around untrammeled archeological and natural sites. Other community members are learning how to interact with outsiders and develop small businesses producing souvenirs like honey products (including wonderful honey shampoo), handicrafts and jams. Maya Ka’an aims to prove that community-based tourism encourages the sustainable use of natural resources and improves the quality of life for people whose reap few benefits from the massive tourism activity in their homeland.
Circus in the Riviera Maya
On an entirely different realm, Cirque du Soleil showed of its new custom theater at the Grand Mayan resort, where the company will present “Joya,”a full-scale Cirque production with eight performances per week. Looking like an abstract UFO, the freestanding 600-seat theater was still under construction during Tianguis, but practice was underway for the elaborate show, which opens on November 8, 2014. Tickets range from $85 to $225.
Mazatlán cruises again
eports of rising crime rates along with a weakened economy caused, five cruise lines to pull out of Mazatlán in 2011 and 2012 despite its popularity in the Mexican Riviera circuit. City and state leaders responded briskly several safety measures, leading to a 90 percent decrease in crime over the past two years, according to Francisco Cordoba, secretary of tourism for the state of Sinaloa. Now five lines—Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Azamara Club Cruises—have returned the 2014-2015 seasons, carrying an estimated 200,000 passengers. Mazatlan received more than 300,000 travelers in 2013, when cruising was nearly nonexistent. The future looks bright for 2014.
Los Cabos keeps getting swankier. Puerto Los Cabos, the new marina development in San José del Cabo, is slated to gain a new Secrets resort in December 2015 and a JW Marriott is under construction.
Super Shuttle has begun service at the Cancún airport with shuttles running to Cancún and Riviera Maya hotels. Advance reservations are required. In the U.S. call 877-392-1516; in Cancún 998/843-5015.
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