A performance during the opening ceremony at Tianguis Turistico 2016 // © 2016 Christian Palma/Mexico Tourism Board
Feature image (above): Attendees learned about the state of Mexico’s tourism industry during the four-day event. // © 2016 Christian Palma/Mexico Tourism Board
Guadalajara, Mexico’s “second city,” was buzzing back in April when thousands of travel trade professionals descended for the annual Tianguis Turistico 2016. Travel agents, tour operators, government officials, destination specialists and media gathered in Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, to discover updates on Mexico’s tourism, gain insight on its growth and become inspired by new ways for selling and marketing the city.
During the four-day event, which was packed with meetings, presentations, performances, culinary experiences, fireworks and, of course, tequila, attendees learned about six destinations in Mexico that are on the rise.
Puerto Vallarta is booming in terms of development and has been for the last few years, with no end in sight. But just south of Puerto Vallarta, hugging the coast down to Manzanillo, is the Costalegre — one of the most pristine stretches of beach and jungle in Mexico.
“The Costalegre is a fantastic place to go,” said Rodrigo Esponda, regional director for North America for the Mexico Tourism Board. “The scenery of beaches and the few little hotels that are scattered really deserve attention.”
In the last three years, Puerto Vallarta International Airport has gained 40 percent new flights out of North America, making it even easier for travelers to access Mexico’s west coast. From the Puerto Vallarta airport, the Costalegre begins about two hours south and continues all the way down into the state of Colima.
Located on the Pacific coast, in the southern state of Oaxaca, is Huatulco, a beach destination already popular with Mexican travelers that is soon to be the next “it” destination for the U.S. market. Huatulco consists of nine bays, only two of which are developed.
“Huatulco has around 3,000 hotel rooms, and there are interesting projects to expand it,” Esponda said. “The bays of Huatulco are perfectly preserved and probably the best in terms of natural preservation. It has been granted Green Globe certification, as well.”
Tim Mullen, president of Apple Vacations, also confirms that Huatulco is a city to watch.
“A new Secrets resort and a renovated Dreams resort already exist there,” he said. “We are seeing and hearing that other hotel chains are looking to develop, as well.”
Additionally, Karisma Hotels & Resorts announced last December that it would be opening an all-inclusive property in Huatulco in 2017.
“The infrastructure is there and it’s all ready to go,” Mullen said. “There are strong tailwinds for hotel developments, and after that, airlines will follow and apply the necessary lift.”
“We have seen remarkable growth in Merida in the last few years,” Esponda said.
Merida is the capital of the state of Yucatan, as well as the largest city on the Yucatan Peninsula. A colonial city, Merida was founded in the 16th century and has the second largest historic center in Mexico, after Mexico City. But the destination is also decidedly modern and cosmopolitan, giving travelers a blend of old and new Mexico.
“Just walking the streets, you see fantastic new galleries, restaurants and boutique hotels,” Esponda said. “The cuisine is very special because it’s close to Cancun. The standard of living is very good, and the cost of living is very low.”
Last year, Merida saw new additional nonstop connectivity out of the U.S. Currently, it is possible to fly direct to Merida from Houston and Miami, but travelers can also access the city by flying into Cancun.
Located about 25 minutes north of Cancun’s hotel zone is Playa Mujeres, a luxury beach spot that has managed to remain out of the bright spotlight of Cancun.
“Playa Mujeres is a relatively new development that was not initially oriented to tourism, except for one hotel,” said Ximena de Cordova Cole, public relations manager for the Cancun CVB. “Now, there are a lot of hotels that offer a different side of Cancun because they are so far from the hotel zone. The beach is difficult to access from the road, so it’s much quieter than Cancun.”
There is already a Secrets property in Playa Mujeres, and coming in November, Dreams Resorts & Spas will open a property right next door. Also in the region is Finest Playa Mujeres, which is part of Excellence Group Luxury Hotels & Resorts.
Just north of Puerto Vallarta in Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, a slew of tourism developments are in the works. At the Tianguis Turistico conference, it was announced that Costa Canuva, a massive luxury development, will open in Nuevo Vallarta.
“Costa Canuva will be developed on the southern coast of Nayarit, in an area that is readily accessible and maximizes the existing infrastructure of Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit,” said Rafael Lang, director general of construction firm Mota-Engil.
Mota-Engil is teaming up with Fonatur, Mexico’s national trust for the promotion of tourism, on the development of Costa Canuva. The development will sit on more than 4 miles of coastline, with 630 acres of beach, estuaries and mountains. There will be five luxury hotels, more than 2,500 residential units, a golf course, specialty restaurants, mountain-biking trails and a marina. More than $1.8 billion is being poured into the project. The opening will be in stages, the first of which is slated for 2018 and will include the golf course, beach club, 350 residential units and a Fairmont hotel.
Next year, Cirque du Soleil and Grupo Vidanta will team up to construct and operate a 300-acre theme park in Nuevo Vallarta. The development will include a waterpark, a nature park and an outdoor evening show venue for as many as 5,000 spectators.
Treasures of the Caribbean
Also in the Cancun region are several smaller Mexican-Caribbean destinations that don’t receive much publicity but are nonetheless on the rise.
“These smaller destinations, such as Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres, Puerto Morelos and Isla Contoy, are all within the main brand of Cancun, but are all very unique,” Cole said. “These destinations give more richness and a bigger experience to our visitors. There are more locals that actually live there, vs. just work there.”
Isla Mujeres, for example, has around 3,000 years of existence. It is packed with tradition and history, as it was part of the pirate era of the Caribbean Sea.
“Then you have Isla Holbox, a very laid-back island that is far from development,” Cole said. “The experience there is extremely relaxed but at the same time provides a luxury hotel and boutique experience.”
Isla Contoy is a national protected area that has more than 150 bird species and is also an important nesting place for sea turtles.