Proposed Yucatan train stirs hoteliers’ fear of cruise activity

By Arnie Weissmann
CANCUN — Passions rose here during a panel at the Mexico Tourism Summit, with hoteliers expressing concerns about a proposed rail link between Riviera Maya and Merida that’s backed by Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto and the Mexico Tourism Board.

The resort executives predicted it will increase the presence of cruise lines in the region, which they oppose.

Carnival Cruise Lines calls at Calica, south of Playa del Carman in the Riviera Maya. Last year, Carnival Corp. sent the Mexican government a letter expressing “interest in possible investments of $150 million in port projects in Calica” and Puerto Cortes, in the state of Baja California Sur.

The hoteliers painted a possible scenario in near-apocalyptic tones.

“There should be a law against cruise ships having a homeport here,” said Gibran Chapur, executive vice president of Palace Resorts, which has 4,000 rooms in seven hotels in Cancun and Riviera Maya, and whose Le Blanc Resort was host of the summit venue.

“If [a homeport] comes here, [cruise] passengers take all the air seats, stay for a weekend, and then never return for a vacation. Everyone’s going to lose: tour operators, airlines, hotels, the government. And if someone is thinking about investing $200 million in a hotel here, if a cruise ship homeports here, they’re going to think twice.”

Chapur later said he opposed not only homeports but any expansion of cruise line activity at Calica, and that having the train begin in Riviera Maya was worrisome because cruise lines would be able to offer convenient day excursions to Chichen Itza.

Cancun Hotel Association President Roberto Cintron expressed fear that the train would be “a pretext” to build a homeport.

“We’re really concerned because it could destroy the hotel industry,” he said, adding that the island of Cozumel, about 46 miles off the coast of Riviera Maya, provided a cautionary tale of engaging with cruise lines.

Cozumel has an active cruise port, and he said that the island, with roughly the same number of visitors as Cancun, earned about $150 million in tourism revenue compared with approximately $3.75 billion for Cancun.

“And it can’t grow,” he said. “It’s one of the poorest areas of the state because the money is not well-distributed.”

One possibly complicating factor for Cancun and Riviera Maya hoteliers is that although Calica is on the Riviera Maya, its port falls under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Cozumel.

Mexico Tourism Board CEO Rodolfo Lopez Negrete was in the front row as the hoteliers spoke, and said that the tourism board had not taken an official position on homeporting in Calica.

“At the end of the day, it would be a business decision made in conjunction with municipal, state and federal authorities, and those authorities would not go against what is best for the private sector,” he said. “Any decision would need strong, solid consensus and generate jobs, taxes and increase the welfare of Mexicans.”

Follow Arnie Weissmann on Twitter @awtravelweekly. 
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