Suzette Mack has been selling family travel to Mexico for 16 years. // © 2016 Suzette Mack
Feature image (above): Holbox is an island in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. // © 2016 iStock
For Suzette Mack, becoming a travel agent and specializing in family travel came hand in hand. The independent contractor with Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso agency, started her business 16 years ago when she saw a need for family travel advisors, especially those familiar with adventure travel. At the time, Mack was a mom taking her toddlers backpacking and kayaking. (By the time they were 10, those same kids were jumping off boats and snorkeling in open water.)
Also from the get-go of Mack’s agent career was pinpointing Mexico as a prime spot for jet-setting families. According to San Jose, Calif.-based Mack, Mexico has something for everyone, from great beaches, natural beauty and outdoor adventures to cultural sites and wonderful food. Not to mention, there are plenty of resort options to keep everyone happy.
Following are Mack’s top tips on sending multigenerational clients to the Mexico.
To which region of Mexico do you most often send clients?
The Riviera Maya is my favorite — I never have a problem finding the right hotel or itinerary for clients. Nobody ever gets bored, either. Many beaches are known for great snorkeling, and travelers can easily visit the archaeological sites of Tulum and Coba. There is even nightlife in Playa del Carmen for parents and young adults.
There are many more resorts here that cater to families with very young children, as well. And with a lot of residential-style accommodations, it’s great for multigenerational groups.
Outside the typical spots, which off-the-beaten-path destinations in Mexico are surprisingly family-friendly?
Holbox is a great option for families who want a peaceful retreat away from the tourist crowds. Parents of young children will appreciate the safe, calm waters on this pristine island, which is perfect for a relaxing getaway in a laid-back setting. But there are fun activities, too, such as snorkeling with whale sharks or taking a tour to see the wildlife on neighboring islands.
My son visited Oaxaca on a service trip in high school, and that really opened my eyes to it as a great destination for families with school-age children. Besides the wonderful food for which it’s known — my son could not stop raving about the street food — there are archaeological ruins, artist villages and a fun market. This is a great option for clients who have enjoyed Europe and South America and want another destination with culture and beautiful scenery.
There’s no shortage of all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. What are some of your favorite all-inclusive resort brands that cater to families?
Velas Resorts has done a great job of proving that luxury, family and all-inclusive are not mutually exclusive. It provides the personalized service that you would find at a traditional luxury hotel, and the Grand Velas properties in the Riviera Maya (Grand Velas Riviera Maya) and Puerto Vallarta (Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit) are members of Virtuoso.
AMResorts also focuses on providing a luxury, all-inclusive experience, with few limitations, such as its “Unlimited-Luxury” package, which includes unlimited a la carte dining options without reservations required; unlimited spirits and other refreshments; and more. Also, my clients have really enjoyed Dreams Resorts & Spas and Now Resorts & Spas. AMResorts’ Preferred Club level kicks it up a notch, with extra amenities such as a private check-in and lounge, a dedicated concierge, upgraded suites and more — much like a Club Level at a luxury hotel.
Karisma Hotels & Resorts has a fabulous selection of properties that target all age ranges, even partnering with Nickelodeon to provide a resort catering to especially young children. It also has some large private villas that offer access to a full-service resort, which are perfect for families traveling together or for a multigenerational group.
All of the above also have excellent children’s programs.
Can you highlight a few standout all-inclusive properties?
Grand Velas Riviera Maya really sets the standard for a luxury all-inclusive family resort. Its suites are huge and beautiful; it has great restaurants that even foodies love; and the personal concierges go above and beyond to provide exceptional service.
For larger families, I've had great success with Velas Vallarta, because it has two- and three-bedroom suites that are a great value. Families appreciate the extra space, and the suites even have kitchens, which can still come in handy at an all-inclusive property.
Sometimes families prefer accommodations at a smaller, more intimate hotel. Do you have any boutique-style properties on your short list?
I recently toured Hotel Esencia in the Riviera Maya and fell in love with it. It's a beautiful, compact resort (formerly a private estate) with lush vegetation and a great beach. It's quiet and elegant, yet kid-friendly, and the service and food is outstanding. I will be recommending it to my clients who want a low-key luxury getaway in great location.
Las Villas Akumal is my go-to boutique hotel for families who are more independent or don’t want the mega-resort experience. It’s in my favorite location in all of Mexico, and it has outstanding snorkeling. The oceanfront villas offer space and privacy, but families still have many resort services, including an on-site restaurant. This is a good location for visiting Tulum and Coba, Xel-Ha or Xcaret.
What are some lesser-known experiences for kids that families should take advantage of in Mexico?
In the Riviera Maya, turtle nesting season is May through November, and turtle walks are led by the Akumal Ecological Association. It’s common to see turtles when snorkeling in Akumal Bay, as well.
They can also visit Celestun, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Celestun Biosphere Reserve, which is also home to a permanent colony of pink flamingos.
A local DMC can arrange for them to swim and snorkel in a private cenote near Chichen Itza, too.
Which tour operators are especially great for families traveling to Mexico?
Classic Vacations is one of my favorite suppliers. It often has better rates than booking direct. Also, it can customize a package, such as adding air for only some of the travelers and including tours and transfers. And it offers “Cancel For Any Reason” travel protection, which is a great value — it even covers published air.
Journey Mexico is great for custom FITs. It is an expert in off-the-beaten-path destinations; has a large inventory of private villa and home rentals; and offers unique private tours. The company is easy to work with and can design a custom itinerary anywhere in the country.
Do you have an example of a personal touch that can brighten a family’s trip?
A fun way to deliver documents is in a pinata. You can stuff it with brochures, candy, cheap inflatable beach toys (which are easy to pack and you can throw them away at the end of the trip), margarita mix and more. Party stores are good places to find Mexico-themed items. Disposable waterproof cameras are nice gifts for kids if they will be snorkeling.
Any additional insight for agents new to selling family travel?
Parents today don’t care as much about putting their kids in a supervised program; they want to have fun things to do together as a family. Many children are savvy world travelers before they are teens, so they are often just as interested in seeing cultural sites as they are in boogie boarding.
Fortunately, travel suppliers have recognized this and, in turn, offer tours and experiences that will appeal to all ages. DMCs are very good at customizing FITs with age-appropriate activities.
So, travel advisors should not be afraid to suggest destinations or activities that traditionally weren’t considered kid-friendly. Parents know the limits of their kids’ abilities and attention spans. And the youngest travelers are often the most adventurous and open-minded.