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On my first visit to Mazatlan, I was surprised by its destination appeal and the nature of its tourist population. It was evident that many of the visitors were domestic Mexican travelers on holiday. I wondered if this was a recent development in Mazatlan tourism or if the lack of international visitors was due to seasonal shifts in travel trends. Frank Cordova, secretary of tourism for Sinaloa, gave me insight into the current state of Mazatlan tourism and how the destination envisions its tourism future.
“Mazatlan was a business destination before we were a tourist destination,” said Cordova. “We have a longstanding port tradition and centuries of history and culture. You can invent a Cancun or Los Cabos but you can’t invent a Mazatlan.”
Cordova explained that Mazatlan’s target market will be families looking for a vacation in a safe and fun environment — the destination had over one million visitors this year, none of whom were assaulted or robbed.
During my visit, I noticed that residents and tourists alike were out exercising on the malecon (boardwalk) at dawn and then again at 7:00 in the evening. It provided a peaceful scene throughout the day, with lots of families strolling along the water. Having traveled to 54 countries and lived in major cities, I am able to pick up on dangerous situations. I felt perfectly safe during my time in Mazatlan.
Cordova informed me that Mazatlan prohibits local nightclubs and restaurants from playing narco traficante ballads (songs glorifying drug dealers). These songs can be a hot button and possible danger in clubs and social venues. It’s to Mazatlan’s credit that venues are actively making these distinctions.
Much of Mazatlan’s marketing efforts will focus on the Hispanic market, especially the domestic portion. Last year, the domestic market accounted for 80 percent of the visitors to Mazatlan, while only the remaining 20 percent were international visitors.
“The American market has gone and I don’t think it’s coming back,” said Klaus J. Henck, general manager of The Palms Resort.
Henck noted that even during the high season, the domestic Mexican market accounted for 85 percent of the hotel’s occupancy.
Mazatlan has also found a niche by marketing itself as Mexico’s only colonial city on the beach — a marketing message grounded in historical fact. Mazatlan was founded in the 1500s by Spanish conquistadors. The city’s 175-block historic downtown area has a sophisticated, European ambience, and many of the district buildings date back hundreds of years, featuring fine dining establishments in restored buildings. Two of the best restaurants are Presidio and Mariscos Bahia, offering high-style regional cuisine.
“Mazatlan was once mainly known as a spring break market,” said Julio Birrueta, marketing director, Mazatlan Tourism Board. “A market shift began 22 years ago, when we started restoring the historic district. The average age of our visitors is now 35 to 55 years of age.”
In 2011, Mazatlan tourism took a hit when five major cruise ship companies stopped calling on the destination because of a perceived lapse in safety and security. Since then, Princess has resumed calling on Mazatlan ports, and Carnival, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line have recently met with Mazatlan state authorities and all have indicated that they will be coming back.
“The return of the cruise ships is important for Mazatlan’s image,” said Cordova. “It points to the fact that Mazatlan has the quality of services and attractions to accommodate the cruise market.”