One Busy Summer

With a downturn expected, hotels and resorts lure travel agent bookings with educational programs, incentives

By: Maxine Cass and Amanda A. Austin

ACAPULCO, Mexico With summer hotel bookings down 17.1 percent, several of Mexico’s hotel operators are guaranteeing agent commission levels, offering incentives and introducing hotel and resort specialist programs. Among them are: Avalon Resorts, which pays 10 percent commission, is banking on a new all-inclusive concept at five of its six Mexican properties. Among the additions are breakfast in bed, 24-hour room service, healthy food options, a VCR library, imported liquor, non-motorized water sports and mountain biking. The company is also offering a special 15 percent bonus commission at its newly branded 422-room Avalon Excalibur Acapulco through Dec. 25. And May 1, Avalon plans to launch an online training program that includes certification from the Institute of Certified Travel Agents. The self-paced course is designed in such a way that it can be done during lunch hour, over a couple weeks, Lipp said. The company is also sponsoring a series of agent fams from key market cities such as Los Angeles and Dallas. Brisas Hotels and Resorts is paying 15 percent commission on rooms at any of its six properties, including the new 350-room Las Brisas Huatulco, formerly Club Med Huatulco. In September, the Brisas Travel Specialist program is expected to go online, offering ICTA certification and a preferred-commission program; and independent luxury fams are available at $75 a night. El Cid Resorts of Mazatlan is continuing its popular EZ Money incentive this year, with the possibility of a fourth year in 2004. Agents receive a 12 percent commission for FIT or group bookings, including those secured through wholesalers and tour operators, as well as a $10 bonus per booking. For every 20 bookings of three or more nights, they receive a complimentary all-inclusive three-night package, which includes $300 in hotel Mega Bucks for use toward spa, golf, tours and fishing services. The InterContinental Hotels Group, the former Six Continents, has no specific program for agents, but has dropped its penalty for cancellations and no-shows. By late 2004, the group intends to have 73 hotels in Mexico, including new properties in Tlalnepantla, Cuernavaca, Orizaba, Puebla, Salina Cruz, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Irapuato, Mérida, Villahermosa, Torreon and in the Santa Fe district of Mexico City. It also intends to introduce its Staybridge Suites brand to Mexico with the planned 2005 opening of a Puebla property. La Jolla de Mismaloya All-Suites Resort in Puerto Vallarta is offering agent bonuses based on the number of room nights sold. For example, an agent who has sold 500 room nights will start receiving 15 percent, according to Santiago Gutierrez Hace, director general and managing director of the resort. The hotel recently has become a scuba diving center, with PADI-trained staff teaching beginning, advanced and certification classes. Three-night packages with two dives a day are $690 a person, double occupancy. Agent rates are $45 a night in summer, $70 in winter, not including diving. All-inclusive rates are $75, summer and $85, winter for up to three nights, double occupancy. Pueblo Bonito Hotels & Resorts is paying 12 percent commission, with an additional $25 bonus for West Coast consortia members. Alfredo Rosas, Pueblo Bonito’s corporate sales and marketing director, said the all-suite Los Cabos and Mazatlán properties have avoided the general downturn in bookings, with reservations up 30 percent over 2002 levels. Later this year the group expects to open the 180-suite Pueblo Bonito Pacifica close to its Sunset Beach resort in Cabo San Lucas. It also has grouped its most luxurious propertiesSunset Beach, Pacifica and Emerald Bay in Mazatláninto a “Luxury Edition of Beach Resorts & Spas,” defined as the most luxurious and exclusive of its holdings. And this summer Starwood Hotels and Resorts is scheduled to open the 237-room W Mexico City, Latin America’s first W hotel, in the city’s stylish Polanco neighborhood. Starwood debuted the 457-room Sheraton Centro Historico Hotel & Convention Center in Mexico City at the end of February and plans to reopen the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort and Towers in Puerto Vallarta this summer. The hotel, damaged during a hurricane last year, is being renovated and adding meeting space.