A Festival of Friends

Travel professionals come together for a fun-filled celebration

By: Janeen Christoff

Last month, both Mexican and American travel suppliers came together to network during a fun-filled celebration known as Mazatlan’s Gran Fiesta Amigos. Literally meaning the Festival of Friends, this annual event is now quite the occasion in its 12th year. This year’s event, sponsored by the city of Mazatlan, the Mazatlan Hotel Association and the state of Sinaloa, was also an opportunity for the city to show off its recent revitalization.

The event kicked off with a spectacular show. The “Sarruga” International Show Parade was a stunning light show with decorated floats and interpretive dancing. Streets were cordoned off and people gathered along the sidewalks to watch the spectacle unfold alongside the sea. Afterward, the performance was followed by a reception with dinner and entertainment in the courtyard of the Hotel La Siesta, located near the waterfront in Mazatlan’s colonial district.

During the second day of the four-day event, participants attended the Business Session Meetings, a day where they can wheel and deal, hosted by El Cid El Moro Beach Hotel, which was followed by a gala dinner at the Hotel Luna Palace. Guests were seated at tables around the pool for a buffet dinner, followed by a 20-minute performance.

Day three marked the celebration of the annual Golden Deer Awards. Guests traveled to the Magic Town of Cosala for the ceremony, where the mayor was on hand for the festivities as well as for a personal tour of the quaint village.

After the tour and a brief performance honoring the Day of the Dead, visitors walked up to the Quinta Minera Cosala hotel for lunch and the awards ceremony. This year’s winners included: Best US Tour Operator, Apple Vacations; Best Charter US Operator, MLT WorryFree Vacations; Best Mexican Charter Operator, Magnicharters; Best Canadian Charter Operator, Signature Vacations; Best US Airline, Frontier Airlines; Best E-Business tour Operator, Travelocity.

Two Special Golden Deer Awards were also given out. Alfredo Gomez Rubio, president of the Historic District Project, received a Golden Deer Award “for his dedication and support in the endeavor.”

Perla Avendano of the Mexican Tourism Board also received a special Golden Deer Award for her “support in facilitating the funds for the promotion of Mazatlan.”

The revitalization program, which began in 2002, was developed to ensure the preservation of Old Mazatlan. Together, residents and city officials began a massive project to restore the culturally rich area.

Phase 1 of the program was completed in the summer of 2005. This initial phase involved restoration, landscaping, underground electrical wiring and new lighting in colonial areas. It also included the restoration of the Angela Peralta Theater, a 130-year-old landmark in the heart of El Centro Historico, also known as Old Mazatlan. This 180-block district, mostly built in the 19th century, has 479 buildings, all of which have been designated as historical landmarks. Phase 1 also involved renovations of the Plaza Machado, on which the famous theater resides, transforming Old Mazatlan into the city’s arts and cultural hub with restaurants, like the popular Pedro & Lola, museums and shops, at the heart of this historic core.

Also restored during phase 1 was the Catedral Basilica de la Immaculada Conception, a cathedral built in the 19th century and well known for being the only Roman Catholic church with a Star of David in each of its 28 stained-glass windows.

Phase 2 of Mazatlan’s ongoing revitalization was just completed in September 2006. This phase brought the renovations to the shore, and now visitors can enjoy new park benches along the Avenida del Mar as well as a new 10-mile boardwalk also along the boulevard, stretching from the Golden Zone to Old Mazatlan.

Improvements to the city are still ongoing. In the upcoming year, Mazatlan is continuing work on the boardwalk and upgrading roads and wiring in the Centro Historico. The city is also adding 500 new hotel rooms in 2007, including a five-star Crowne Plaza.

Mazatlan has also tripled its ad budget in the last three years and is investing in promotions in the U.S. and Canada.