Laura Del Rosso
Laura Del Rosso

*logoAn international airport will be built at Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula to serve the fast-growing Riviera Maya and emerging Yucatan destinations to the south, said Eduardo Chaillo, director-U.S. for the Mexican Tourism Board.

"There will be an airport at Tulum, the question is: when?" he said during Travel Weekly's TravelPeople interview last week with Mary Pat Sullivan, president of Sullivan Marketing Advisors. "The land is there and ready."

The issue is financing, Chaillo said; the global economic downturn has slowed such development projects. Private investment is needed for the airport at Tulum.

But he is confident that, eventually, "there will be an airport" at Tulum, making accessibility to the area more convenient for those staying at Riviera Maya resorts and the emerging areas along the Costa Maya south to the Belize border. (Cancun airport is about a 50-minute drive from Riviera Maya, but sometimes the trip takes longer with traffic congestion.)

Chaillo gave an upbeat report on the state of Mexico's tourism industry, which was battered this year by swine flu fears, a deep recession in the U.S. and drug violence concerns.

"We're very happy to see numbers recovering," he said. An aggressive destination co-op campaign in major U.S. markets, with the message "Welcome Back," has helped, and an eight-week fall TV and cable advertising campaign with the slogan "Mexico, Time to Go" is expected to further bring numbers to near-normal levels.

"At the end of the year, we expect maybe only a 5% to 6% decrease in annual numbers," he said. "The bounce-back has been very nice."

In May air arrivals plummeted 52%, compared with 2008 arrival figures, according to Chaillo, but there's been a week-by-week improvement since then, he said. One carrier has told Chaillo that its fall and winter traffic to Mexico may surpass 2008-09 business.

Hotel occupancy in July has been strong, thanks in part to the domestic Mexican market. Los Cabos occupancies in July were nearly at the same level as last year.

Puerto Vallarta was at about nine points below 2008 figures, Chaillo reported. Riviera Maya and Cancun were lagging behind, with hotel occupancies nearly 20 points down from the same time last year. (The latest figures show Cancun at 64.25% occupancy, down from 86.5% last year, and Riviera Maya at 56.6% occupancy, a drop from 79.2% last year.)

Contributing to the poor showing at those two resort areas is the tremendous increase in room inventory, with several major resorts opening in the last year. Demand has not yet reached supply, he said.

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