I traveled to Mexico this past weekend, as a guest of Hacienda Tres Rios, an award-winning, eco-oriented all-inclusive resort north of Playa del Carmen.
The trip marked my first time back on the Riviera Maya (the stretch of resorts running south of Cancun toward Tulum) since last year’s swine flu warnings did a number of Mexican tourism.
When I arrived last May over Memorial Day 2009, the CDC had just lifted its warning regarding travel to Mexico. Even though the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun and the Riviera Maya lie, had reported no swine flu cases, tourism had all but dried up. Agents in the Cancun airport wore masks and took our temperature as we deplaned. Hotels in Cancun were at half their normal capacity. Many resorts were forced to lay off workers.
The dearth of tourists did make life easy for those who did brave the flu warnings. Discounts were everywhere, and you had your pick of restaurants and beach beds. Still, you couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Mexican tourism industry, which was still reeling from reports of drug violence in other areas of the country. I’ve heard it time and again from those who rep Mexican properties: every time there’s a report of violence, no matter how far away from the beaten tourist track it may be, bookings suffer.
On this visit, tourism in Playa del Carmen seemed healthy. The streets were lively, restaurants were happening (we had to wait for an outdoor table at Yax Che). Clubs such as the Blue Parrot that were giving away drinks last time now had covers. For me, Playa became a different type of town.
Still, the resorts in the area are still hurting a bit. Occupancy in Cancun is a few percentage points below last year – which was already down 20% from 2008. Mexican travel expert Kay Walten, who runs the reservation service LocoGringo, blamed it the downturn on the continued lack of consumer confidence. The majority of people just aren’t ready to spend money on international vacations yet, it seems.
That’s too bad. Because the Riviera Maya continues to be one of the best travel bargains around. The area has everything – easy air access, big resorts, smaller boutique hotels, natural attractions, history – to suit almost every type of traveler. The area is about ready to enter its off-season (which coincides with hurricane season; buy travel insurance if you plan a trip during this time) so expect the bargains to continue.
And it’s certainly not too early to plan for December holidays. When it’s cold and rainy in Seattle, I know Mexico won’t be too far from my thoughts.
Have you been to Mexico lately? If so, I’d love to hear your experiences – tell me where you stayed and if your hotel/resort seemed empty, crowded or – hopefully – just right.