Mazatlan’s Gran Fiesta Amigos

The city’s 'thank you' has become quite the affair

By: Suzie Rodriguez

If ever an annual meeting was aptly named, it’s Mazatlan’s Gran Fiesta Amigos. In essence a sales and marketing powwow, the four-day extravaganza nonetheless translates both in spirit and reality into a Big Festival of Friends.

Hosted by the destination of Mazatlan, the Mazatlan Hotel Association and the State of Sinaloa, Fiesta Amigos was first held in 1994 to honor the city’s key travel partners wholesalers, tour operators, airlines and incentive companies in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The Fiesta quickly evolved into a can’t-miss event. And if last year’s 11th annual Fiesta is any indication, its popularity has yet to peak.

“It’s the best way for tourism operators to get to know each other, to find out more about Mazatlan, and to catch up on important business relationships,” said Sandra Castellanos, manager of System Tour Operator in Mexico’s Aguascalientes.

As you would expect a good deal of business gets carried out over cocktails, across dinner plates or while simply walking on the beach. But Fiesta organizers also schedule a helpful day of face-to-face meetings between individual wholesalers and local hotel representatives. The Inn at Mazatlan hosted last year’s meetings, reserving 15 suites for each participating hotel.

The annual Golden Deer Awards, given to the top tour operators and airlines promoting Mazatlan in the past year, were presented during an under-the-stars banquet hosted by Hotel Pueblo Bonito at Emerald Bay. Last year’s recipients and categories: Pleasant Holidays (USA Tour Operator), Imacop Tour Corporation (Mexican Tour Operator), MLT Worryfree Vacations (USA Air Charter Company), Signature Vacations (Canadian Air Charter Company), Magnicharters (Mexican Air Charter Company), Travelocity (Internet Tour Operator) and Northwest Airlines (Best USA Airline).

“We’re excited,” enthused David Lavigne of MLT Vacations, which has won the award twice before. “We have a long-term commitment to Mazatlan 17 years, in fact. It’s an exciting destination to represent, the people and culture are fascinating and the hotels are a joy to work with.”

The hotels returned the sentiment.

“Fiesta Amigos gives Mazatlan the opportunity to show our gratitude to the industry,” said Carlos Berdegue, the Hotel Association’s vice president. “We are extremely thankful to our good friends who promote this splendid destination.”

What’s Happening in Mazatlan?

Last year’s Fiesta was kicked off with a tribute to the city’s historic district. Dating back to the early 1800s, Old Mazatlan fell into decline in the latter half of the last century. Today, after more than a decade of painstaking restoration, the district is fast becoming a destination of its own and is currently under consideration as a World Heritage Site. Among its prime attractions: lively Plaza Machado, with its exquisite ancient buildings (a few now showcasing excellent al fresco restaurants), the Immaculate Conception Cathedral and the meticulously restored 19th-century Angela Peralta Theatre.

Nothing illustrates Old Mazatlan’s emergence as a tourism player better than the fact that last year’s welcome dinner was held in the palm-laden courtyard of a new boutique hotel located two blocks from Plaza Machado The Melville Suites. Ensconced in a beautifully restored neoclassical building, the hotel’s 20 suites are individually decorated with antiques, modern art and rich fabrics.

The historic district’s rebirth has ramifications. For the last quarter-century most tourists have tended to stay in the area known as Zona Dorada (the Golden Zone), with its wide range of beachfront hotels and tourist activities. But now Old Town is gaining an increasing share of the tourist dollar.

And the changes don’t stop there. A few miles north of the Zona Dorada, Nuevo Mazatlan is emerging, and its new resorts and condos are attracting many clients who opt for low-key luxury.

Are hoteliers in the Zona Dorada worried? Not much.

“The Golden area will still be important for people who prefer a lively town experience,” said Beatriz Lopez, administration manager of the Hotel Association.

Last year, one of the Fiesta’s most popular activities was the barbecue given at Los Osuna agave plantation. After a tour of the tequila production facility, guests were treated to an endless array of Mexican culinary specialties, regional singing and dancing and for those who dared shots of tequila.

Other festival activities included a golf tournament at Estrella del Mar and a white-on-white, on-the-water dinner at Hotel El Cid El Morro Beach. Guests were asked to wear white clothing, and the result was visually stunning indeed.

The Gran Fiesta Amigos will be held this year from Nov. 8-11. It should be another great party among friends.

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