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While Cancun’s growth has slowed, forecasts upbeat

John Collins

Total rooms have topped 48,000 with 14,000 more underway; Eight million visitors and 80,000 rooms projected by year 2020.

Cancun and Riviera Maya, on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, are feeling the impact of the Sept. 11 (9-11) terrorist attacks in the U.S., but its tourism industry is projected continued phenomenal growth for the next 20 years.

Every day Cancun’s newspapers report the vital signs of its tourism industry compiled by the Hotel Association of Quintana Roo, the state in which its located. The forecasts of a year ago (CB Feb. 8, 2001) were pretty well achieved although there were contractions in arrivals from the U.S. after the 9-11 attacks.

Cancun’s room inventory now stands at 26,024 and Riviera Maya’s 17,959 for a grand total of 44,023. Last week overall occupancy stood at 62%, down 14%  compared with 79% a year earlier. Although Riviera Maya’s occupancy was 65% some of its hotels reported drops of 17% to 20% compared with  January 2001. Occupancy in Cancun, on the other hand, was 60% compared with a year earlier with the contractions averaging between 15% and 20%.

Quintana Roo hoteliers spoken to reported that December was rough, because of the declining arrivals, but that it was better than they had expected because of an increase in Mexican tourists. It still ended the year with three million visitors spending more than $4 billion and generating 35% of Mexico’s total tourism-related revenues.

The Cancun miracle is only 26 years old and since its origin then as a sleepy little village, it has growth into one of the biggest destinations in the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic (D.R.), with 54,000 rooms, is ahead of right now but by the end of this year Cancun will overtake it when 14,000 more rooms, presently under construction or to get underway, become available.

Cancun’s role in regional tourism figured prominently in the recent annual Marketplace of the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) hosted by Quintana Roo and attended by 1,500 delegates.

Super destination, variety of attractions

“Let’s imagine finding a catalogue in a travel agency, dedicated exclusively to the Caribbean,” said Quintana Roo Governor Joaquin Henricks, in welcoming the delegates. “With all the options in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico Havana, Santo Domingo, Cancun and Cozumel, to mention just a few of the jewels of the Caribbean; as well as information about different foods as well as rates, flight information, trips and excursions. A single super tourism destination with a variety of attractions and accessible from any airport in the world.”

Many delegates from other parts of the region responded  enthusiastically to Henricks promotion of the multi-destination concept. “I’m convinced Mexico is destined to perform a leadership role in promoting the Caribbean as a whole region as one of the world’s major tourism destinations,” said Dominican hotelier Simon Suarez, the CHA president-elect.  

A master plan for the development of tourism in Quintana Roo for the next 20 years is projecting that by the year 2020 the state will welcome eight to ten million visitors and the total inventory will reach 80,000 rooms. This tremendous growth has not been without costs.

The newest state in Mexico, sparsely populated Quintana Roo now has 1.5 million inhabitants and heading for two million. As thousands of Mexicans have flocked into the state from elsewhere because of the boom it has created considerable strains with a housing shortage of over 60,000 units, for example.

With the growth has come a myriad of problems. While the hotels zones are immaculate  and crime-free, other areas inhabited by locals are experiencing upsurges in crime, narcotics, prostitution and other types of social afflictions which in turn have spawned corruption with the last governor presently in jail facing trial for drug trafficking and money laundering.

In addition, there is growing concern among local environmentalists as well as their supporters abroad over the cost of uncontrolled growth. Recently a massive resort in Riviera Maya, undertaken by Melia, was stopped by court order because its site is a turtle breeding area.

With its large room inventory, Cancun and Maya Riviera take business from where ever they can find it. Because of various changes in the market this results in fluctuations in arrivals. The region is very popular with spring breakers but their bookings are down by 20,000 but they are still planning to welcome 70,000 with over 50% of those already deposited. Last year they projected 110,000 spring breakers but ended up with 90,000. 

The decrease is attributed to the deteriorating U.S. economic situation and the continued fear of flying by some people.

Another category of business registering decline is the Japanese which hoteliers in Cancun love because they come a great distance and are good spenders. Before 9-11 they were averaging 1,000 a month their totals have plunged 80% with only 200 a month arriving now. Japan is experiencing a prolonged recession which has resulted in Japanese staying close to home.

Cruise ship arrivals jumping

An area of particular growth which has Quintana Roo heartened is the growth in cruise ship arrivals in Quintana Roo ports. The state, which is forecasting two million cruise passengers, is reporting that cruise lines have booked over 200 calls by 46 new ships.

“We are very optimistic about the future of our cruise business because Royal Caribbean is expanding all of its sailings out of such U.S. ports as Galveston, Houston, Mobile, New Orleans and Tampa,” said Javier Guillermo, agent for major cruiselines. “The Mexican Riviera is ideally situated to welcome these ships. Now in May we will be pleased to receive Disney Cruises at Cozumel for the first time.” 

February 3, 2001

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