Placido Domingo, the BBC London Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra may be providing some big-name clout to Yucatan’s event calendar this fall, but the state also hosts a variety of noteworthy festivals that take place every year.
Among the region’s most popular annual events is the seventh annual Yucatan Bird Festival, slated for Nov. 13-16, with a variety of lectures and exhibits in both Merida and Uxmal. From Feb. 18-25, 2009, the Carnaval celebration takes to the streets in Merida, bringing thousands of revelers together for parades, live musical and dance performances and other entertainment. And every September, colorful religious processions take place during Los Gremios, a tradition that dates to 1654 when a large Christ statue was brought to Merida’s cathedral after a fire in the nearby village of Ichmul.
Yucatan Bird Festival 2008
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Cancun and the Riviera Maya may get a lot of the attention along Mexico’s east coast, but the state of Yucatan — which lies at the heart of the peninsula of the same name — has been enjoying exceptional growth in recent years.
Chichen Itza was most recently named one of the New Wonders of the World.
Since 2003, the number of visitors to the state has increased an average of 6.4 percent per year, according to figures reported by the Secretaria de Fomento Turistico, the state tourism organization. In 2007, there was an 11.7 percent increase in the number of tourists, 26 percent of which were international. During 2007, hotel occupancy rates grew 3.3 percent compared to the year before, reaching a peak of 56.3 percent.
"The positive trend is continuing," according to Angelica Espinosa, a spokesperson for the Secretaria. "In 2008, between January and June, 666,495 people arrived, which represents an increase of 19.2 percent compared with the same period in 2007."
Meeting and event planners have also taken note of the state of Yucatan, with the number of events and conventions growing some 20 percent between 2004 and 2007. And the cruise industry, which calls on the port town of Progreso, has also upped its arrivals. Between 2004 and 2007, the port received an annual average of 92 cruises, with an average of slightly more than 211,000 passengers per year.
Compare that with the 90 cruises and nearly 193,000 passengers that anchored at Progreso between January and June of this year, and it’s easy to see why this state is growing on the tourist map.
On the World Stage
The impressive arrival numbers are a combination of promotional efforts and increased awareness of the region, according to Espinosa. The state has made a concerted effort to increase its trade show presence and also upped the number of fam trips it conducts.
The recent naming of the ruins at Chichen Itza as one of the New World Wonders has also played a large role in the region’s popularity, according to Espinosa.
"Chichen Itza being declared a Wonder of the World definitely brought fresh air to the Yucatan," she said. "The Mayan archeological sites are, more than ever, the most important product to explore in the region, and the richness of these cities is attracting the media and [filmmakers] who want to see what is happening in the Yucatan."
According to state tourism statistics, visitors to the region’s archeological zones increased from 1.5 million in 2006 to just over 2 million in 2007, an increase of 34.3 percent. Chichen Itza reported a 26.3 percent increase in visitors between 2006 and 2007, reaching more than 1.5 million during 2007.
The Secretaria de Fomento Turistico is also coordinating a larger number of high-profile, one-time-only events, including a performance by Placido Domingo on Oct. 4 at Chichen Itza and a BBC London Orchestra concert with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra that took place on Oct. 9 in Izamal.
As a sign of its diversification, the state of Yucatan is going after golf enthusiasts and second-home buyers like never before, with two large projects under construction. Last year, the Yucatan Country Club Village & Resort unveiled a 7,282-yard, Jack Nicklaus-
designed golf course and academy, and is constructing private residences, a spa and equestrian center. It ultimately plans to add a hotel as well.
Also under construction is Flamingo Lakes Golf Resort, a 2,200-acre complex that will have luxury residences ranging from two-bedroom condominiums to five-bedroom villas, as well as a 27-hole, John Jacobs-designed golf course.
To contend with the Yucatan’s increased arrival numbers, several new hotels are set to open in the capital city of Merida by 2010, including the 290-room Merida Marriott Hotel (2010), a Fiesta Inn Merida (2009) and a 100-room Holiday Inn Express Merida (April 2009).
The state currently has 351 hotels and inns, with a total of 9,147 rooms; 64 percent of the inventory is located in the capital city of Merida. Among the largest existing properties in the capital are the 289-room Hyatt Regency Merida Hotel, the 350-room Hotel Fiesta Americana Merida, the 212-room Holiday Inn Merida, the 159-room El Conquistador, the 170-room El Castellano Hotel & Club, the 155-room Hotel Los Aluxes and the 127-room
InterContinental Presidente Merida.
Outside of the capital, large properties include the 147-room Hotel Reef Yucatan, in Telchac Puerto, and the 112-room Ecotel Quinta Regia, in Valladolid.
Even with a growing number of large properties, upscale travelers often choose smaller, more unique accommodations, especially 19th-century haciendas that have been converted into luxury hotels. At these properties, guests can sleep in restored historic homes, enjoy luxuries like spa treatments and gourmet cuisine and partake in daytrips to the region’s archeological sites. The largest operator of haciendas in the state, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, has five Yucatecan properties which function under the company’s Luxury Collection banner: Hacienda Santa Rosa, Hacienda San Jose, Hacienda Temozon, Hacienda Uayamon and Hacienda Puerta Campeche.
With numbers growing nicely and new hotels in the works, Espinosa acknowledged that what is still lacking is new airlift.
"There has been conversation with new airlines, but nothing is confirmed," she said. "Definitely more airlines are needed, especially now, with the increase in the cost of gas, but connections can be easily done through Mexico City."
A new hope for attracting additional air service is Chichen Itza Airport, a small airfield that was acquired by the Yucatan government in May. Located about 10 minutes from Chichen Itza, the airport is being positioned as the "official" airport for the archeological site.
Chichen Itza officially opened earlier this month, accepting private flights in conjunction with Placido Domingo’s concert on Oct. 4. Scheduled commercial flights, however, are still under negotiation.