Emily: Cozumel, Riviera Maya take a hit

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MIAMI -- Mexicos Yucatan region, including Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya and the southern end of Cozumel -- al of which bore the brunt of Hurricane Emilys wallop on July18 -- continued clean-up efforts as hotels assessed damages and reopening dates.

Cancun, with the bulk of area tourist arrivals, largely escaped major damage. Most properties in the citys hotel zone emerged unscathed and were open.

South of Cancun, however, the situation remained in flux because downed telephone and utility lines made communications difficult.

While reports within the first 48 hours initially downplayed damages in most of the Yucatan, it later became apparent that the southern portion of the Riviera Maya, particularly the scenic stretch from Akumal to Tulum,and the island of Cozumel, took bigger hits than first reported.

Fernando Garcia, managing director of Real Resorts, with two properties in Cancun and three in Playa del Carmen -- all undamaged -- said 20% of Riviera Maya hotels were damaged enough to require temporary closings.

 The heaviest damage was at Akumal and Puerto Aventuras, he said. Of the 20% of hotels damaged, I estimate that half will take from one to three months to repair. But the remaining 80% are operational.

Mexican authorities won widespread praise for their preparation and evacuation efforts.

Ray Snisky, president of Funjet Vacations, said, The most important thing here is that people were protected and were safe. We all dodged a real bullet.

To better determine the impact on local tourist infrastructures, the tourism boards of both the Riviera Maya and Quintana Roo state joined with the local hotel association and area municipalities July 21 to send out seven inspection teams on evaluation tours of Riviera Maya hotels and resort properties. The teams findings will help formulate a recovery action plan for the region.

In the meantime, travel agents were scrambling either to confirm that clients could check into undamaged hotels or to re-accommodate those booked at closed properties -- not an easy task given the communications problems.

Travel agent Cindy Babiak at Cain Travel in Boulder, Colo., spent days trying unsuccessfully to contact a hotel in the worst-hit area of the Riviera Maya, where several clients were headed from late July through mid-November.

Ive got people departing on July 28, and theyre frantic and wondering if they should change, Babiak said. And Ive got another couple heading down Nov. 13; Im sure the resort will be fine by then, but theyre worried -- and they have to make their deposit today.

Early reassurances from Mexican tourism officials that Emilys bark was worse than her bite were followed by a flood of retractions.

Its been like the movie Jaws, where [tourism] officials are telling people Come on in, in the waters fine, said Babiak.

Checking out accommodations: On Cozumel, off the coast of the Riviera Maya, most damage was to the islands southern tip, with some trade reports of heavy damage to beach bars and other shore facilities.

Although many island hotels were scheduled to reopen by July 25, the Iberostar Cozumel is closed until November for repairs. Meanwhile, the Presidente Intercontinental Cozumel Resort and Spa was to begin receiving guests on July 25.

Back on the mainland, Iberostars four resorts in the Playa Paradise complex along the Riviera Maya, as well as its two properties in Playa car near Playa del Carmen, were expected to reopen by July 24.

Iberostars new Playa Paradise Golf Course, damaged by fallen trees, is under repair. Real Resorts Royal Porto Real Playa del Carmen, Grin Porto Real Playa del Carmen and Real Playa del Carmen suffered minor damage and were open with 100% occupancy.

Of Occidental Hotels and Resorts six properties in the region, only the Caribbean Village Cancun was open as of July 21.

The chains Grand Cozumel and Royal Hideaway Playacar will reopen July 31, while Allegro Cozumel by Occidental, the Grand XCaret by Occidental in the Riviera Maya and Allegro Playacar were not accepting reservations until further notice, although theyll be open by the winter season, said a spokesman.

In the Riviera Maya, AM Resorts Sunspace Tulum is open, although some oceanfront rooms are being repaired; Sunspace Puerto Aventuras will reopen Aug. 19.

Wyndham Hotels and Resorts Viva Wyndham Aztecan and the Viva Wyndham Maya in Playa del Carmen both will reopen Aug. 18.

Karisma Hotels and Resorts shuttered two of its five Riviera Maya properties for a month of repairs. The El Dorado Seaside Suites and Hidden Beach Resort will reopen Aug. 20, while Azul Hotel and Beach Resort and El Dorado Royal Spa Resort remain operational.

Karismas fifth property, the Mi Hotelito, is under construction but had no major damage. Riu Hotels and Resorts resorts in Playa del Carmen -- Palace Mexico, Tequila, Yucatan, Playacar and Lolita -- are open to guests, while landscaping repairs are under way.

Palace Resorts Adventura Spa Palace and Xpu-Ha Palace in the Riviera Maya sustained significant damage and are now closed; the north section of Ventura is slated to reopen on Sept. 30, and Xpu-Ha on Oct. 31.

The chains Cozumel Palace, Cancun Palace, Sun Palace and Beach Palace sustained only minor damage and are open for business. Palace Resorts new Playacar Palace, under construction and slated to open in October, also had damage and has delayed its opening.

Minimal damage was reported at Sol Melia's five area resorts, and the Gran Melia Cancun, Gran Melia Torques, Torques Riviera Cancun, Sol Cabanas del Caribe and Melia Cozumel were all expected to be back in full operation by July 22.

For its part, Barcelo Hotels and Resorts said its four properties in the Yucatan -- Barcelo Las Perlas and Barcelo Perlas Beach in Cancun, and Barcelo Maya Beach and Barcelo Maya Caribe Beach on the Rivera Maya --were all undamaged and operating as usual. However, other sources reported that 200 of 600 rooms at the Maya Beach and Maya Carrie Beach complex were closed for repairs.

As for attractions, the Xcaret and Xel-Ha ecological theme parks both sustained some damage -- largely to landscaping -- and are temporarily closed, according to an employee reached by telephone July 20, with Xel-Ha set to reopen July 23, and Xcaret, by July 27.

Several sources described the famed seaside Mayan ruins at Tulum as undamaged, save for some downed foliage.

Those ruins have survived so many hurricanes, theyve proved themselves resistant, said Real Resorts Garcia.

Although Emily prompted cruise lines to change some itineraries in the western Caribbean, the storm appeared to do minimal damage to cruise facilities at Cozumel, the Caribbeans most popular port of call.

Carnival resumed its Cozumel calls on July 20, a spokesman said.

The Fascination, from Miami, was the first ship to arrive, although it left an hour earlier than scheduled because of the islands power outage.

We wouldnt go back if there werent things for people to do, he said.

The line was forced to turn two four-day cruises, the July 16 voyage of the Sensation and the July 16 voyage of the Ecstasy, into cruises-to-nowhere. Passengers on those cruises were given a future cruise credit worth 50% of the paid cruise fare.

Royal Caribbean International also made the decision to return to Cozumel this week, on the Empress of the Seas, after initially deciding to avoid the call.

But the Explorer of the Seas, which departed July 17, sailed a modified itinerary because of the storm.

Elsewhere, Costa Mayas pier was in full operation on July 18, a media representative for the pier said, as was Progresso on the Yucatans west coast, on the Gulf of Mexico.

The Caribbean dodged the bullet this time, although two small properties on Carriacou were damaged. The 16-room Silver Beach Resort lost four rooms, and the six-room Caribbean Inn is closed until November. Grenadas Chocolate Co., a popular attraction in the north, is closed for a month, but the island -- still recovering from Hurricane Ivan last September -- reported minimum overall damage, according to minister of tourism Brenda Hood.

Rebecca Tobin contributed to this report.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to[email protected].

 

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

 

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