By Nicholas Gill
INTERNATIONAL REPORT—As tourism to many regions in Mexico falters because of drug-related violence, numbers are actually up along the Riviera Maya.
“We are actually 25% ahead of last year since a lot of people realize that the drug trafficking and violence associated with drug dealing is on the other side of the country,” said Jack Perlman, who owns Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen, a collection of condo-hotel properties on and off Playa’s beachfront. “People also realize how safe, statistically speaking, the Riviera Maya region is compared to any major city in the U.S.”
The Riviera Maya, or Mayan Riviera, is consistently one of the strongest performers among Mexican tourist regions. The area, found on the Eastern end of the Yucatan Peninsula, contains hot spots such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and the island of Cozumel, and houses hundreds of large resorts, many of them all-inclusive. It’s a place of pristine beaches, lush jungle, historical Mayan archeological sites and a lively (to say the least) nightlife.
Even with 545 rooms added to the supply in the past year, occupancy rates have spiked in the first quarter of 2011. According to STR, parent company of HotelNewsNow.com, year-to-date occupancy through May in the Yucatan Peninsula market is 70.6%, up 12.7% from last year. Average daily rate is up 1.3% to US$134.22, and revenue per available room is up 14.2% to US$94.71.
The Banyan Tree Mexico
“During the summer we expect to have 90% occupancy average in the destination and of course our hoteliers offer during this family travel period special packages like kids stay free, but do not offer lower prices,” said Ana Mari C. Irabien, public relations director for the Riviera Maya Tourist Promotion Office.
“The recent travel warning is an extension of the previous warning issued in September 2010,” Irabien continued. “It should be noted that the April travel advisory did not specifically include or name Riviera Maya, the state of Quintana Roo or neighboring states on the Yucatan Peninsula. The 16 Mexico states listed in the warning are all located hundreds of miles from Riviera Maya, closer to the U.S. and Mexico border, where drug-related violence and criminal activity has recently occurred.”
Elsewhere in the country, tourism statistics are not nearly as positive. In Acapulco and Mazatlán, most cruise lines have stopped visiting. American Express is reporting a sharp decline in bookings to Mexico overall.
According to the U.S. State Department, 107 Americans were killed in homicides in Mexico last year, up from 77 the year before and twice the figure before the drug wars began.
“It has been a challenging year for Mexico in general, but Riviera Maya has remained a favored destination among American and European travelers,” said Federico Echaiz, managing director of Maroma Resort and Spa. “Drug violence is rare on the Riviera Maya, and we are fortunate that there hasn’t been a single case that has affected Maroma guests.”
In 2010, approximately 22.4 million tourists visited Mexico, an increase of about 4.4%, according to the Mexico Tourism Board. Drug violence has claimed as many as 40,000 lives since 2006. A swine flu outbreak in 2009 added to the decline of tourism in the country as well, which is a $12 billion dollar a year industry.
“The overall uncertainty and skewed information displayed in the press is leading to a scenario which is not conductive for tourism,” said Maximilian Lenkh, VP of Banyan Tree Mexico, the first Banyan Tree in the Americas. “There is no drug-related violence in the Riviera Maya area due to strict control and security measures implemented by the security authorities.
“Mexico overall is experiencing a loss in American tourist arrivals, which is also felt here in the Riviera Maya,” Lenkh said. “However, the loss here is not very significant. Rates are a bit softer compared to last year but not significantly. Part of the loss on the American market is made up again by stronger arrival figures from the European market.”
Many agree that certain regions of Mexico are facing more of an image problem than a drug problem. Among reports of violence and crime there are also reports of increases in visitors, hotel development and occupancy rates. Additionally, the crime index of 14 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in the entire country isn't much different from most U.S. cities.
Following in the path of Colombia’s successful tourism campaign that continues to lure visitors despite the country’s less-than-favorable past, Mexico will soon launch a campaign with the tagline, "The Place You Thought You Knew."