Rafael Lizarraga, minister of tourism for Mazatlan // © 2016 Mazatlan Tourism Board
Feature image (above): Although Mazatlan was not always popular with tourists, there has been a recent increase in visitors to the region. // © 2016 Mazatlan Tourism Board
Over the last five years, Mazatlan has hit a few bumps in the road when it comes to tourism. The destination has turned this around and is raising its tourism profile with an effective marketing slogan, the return of cruise ships and a vigorous hotel expansion. In 2015, Mazatlan welcomed 1,981,883 tourists, a 3.1 percent increase over 2014. The city also received 195,158 cruise passengers, a 132.4 percent increase over 2015.
“It has been a great comeback story,” said Rafael Lizarraga, the new minister of tourism for Mazatlan. “We’ve been steadily increasing our cruise ship numbers since 2011, and we have more than 90 cruise ship visits scheduled this year.”
During my visits to Mazatlan, I was impressed by how seamless it was to wander through the colonial section of the city, with its many restored 19th-century buildings, and then have a totally different experience just a few blocks away, strolling along the city’s beachfront “malecon” (promenade), which is the largest boardwalk in the Americas.
Lizarraga notes that Mazatlan will continue its “Colonial City on the Beach” marketing message, since the city’s colonial history aspects are the strongest differentiation between Mazatlan and its Mexican competitors.
As tourism visitation continues to increase in the Historic District, investment is focused on the restoration of historical areas and businesses there.
“For example, more than a dozen restaurants have opened in the Historic District in the last six months,” Lizarraga said.
Throughout Mazatlan, there are 10 new hotels in the planning stages, scheduled to open over the next two years. This will add 2,000 new rooms to the destination. Recent hotel openings include Sleep Inn Mazatlan and Pacific Palace Beach Tower Hotel.
Build it and They Will Come
Over the years, Mazatlan has developed a reputation as a budget-friendly destination with a lot of appeal for snowbirds, expatriates and Mexican domestic tourists.
“Mazatlan will not become a high-priced city compared to others in the region because we do not import produce or labor,” Lizarraga said. “Everything is made in our state; we are exporters.”
Even so, Mazatlan is attracting a higher-spending tourist.
“The reality is that hotels and restaurants are upgrading their products,” Lizarraga said. “More gourmet and signature restaurants are opening or planning to open soon. There is no way to beat the value of Mazatlan, in both price and quality of service.”
Lizarraga notes that Mazatlan has a unique relationship with airlines, since the destination doesn’t rely on tourist bookings. Mazatlan citizens love to fly to the U.S. for vacations, and the city’s expat community not only goes back and forth to their original homes in the U.S., but also receives visiting friends and family.
“The Mazatlan airline committee is constantly in conversation with airlines looking for a Mexico expansion,” Lizarraga said.
He notes that within the past two years, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have opened flights to Mazatlan from Los Angeles, and Sun Country Airlines increased its weekly flights from Minneapolis from two to five.
“We are also looking to start working with United Airlines and Southwest Airlines,” he said.
Most U.S. visitors to Mazatlan come from California, Minnesota, Texas and Arizona; however; Lizarraga notes that the city receives visitors from across the U.S.
“They come for the value, authentic Mexico experiences, hospitable people and great authentic local cuisine,” he said. ‘We have 12 miles of pristine beaches, a Nuevo Mazatlan zone attached to the city and intriguing small towns surrounding us that are perfect for day trips. Best of all, we have our restored Historic District that has brought the Mazatlan of the 1800s back to life.”
Lizarraga notes that educating travel agents and potential tourists about the destination is a never-ending process.
“It’s always hard to educate travel agents and potential tourists who have never been to a destination or haven’t been for a long time,” he said. “This is why we are always encouraging tour operators and airlines to organize fam trips for travel professionals.”