Golf, deep-sea fishing not the only games in Los Cabos

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LOS CABOS, Mexico -- This Baja California fishing destination has broadened its appeal considerably since the rock band Van Halen sang its praises in the 1988 song "Cabo Wabo."

Los Cabos' golf courses and luxury resorts emerged in the 1990s, followed by inclusive resorts and direct flights from Atlanta, Newark and Chicago in 2000.

Prior to becoming known as a golf hot spot, Los Cabos was primarily known as a fishing destination, said Alfredo Rosas, executive director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board in Santa Monica, Calif.

Deep-sea fishing remains the most attractive activity for Los Cabos, he said, but it is no longer the only fish in the sea.

The region opened its first golf course in 1993 and will open its ninth in February.

"Los Cabos has been able to position itself in an upscale market" with construction of the courses, Rosas said, "and to generate tourism from different regions -- not just the West Coast, but [also] Texas, the Midwest and East Coast."

Rosas estimated that 65% of Los Cabos' visitors are from the West Coast, compared with between 75% and 80% before the golf courses and flights from new markets.

Room inventory is increasing at a rate of 12% per year, he said, challenging the local government to keep up with the destination's growth.

The broad appeal of Los Cabos also is due to the diversity of its three main areas, Rosas said.

Los Cabos is a calving ground for gray whales during their annual migration period, from December through March. Cabo San Lucas, where most fishing enthusiasts stay, is known for its marina, restaurants, nightclubs and party atmosphere.

The town's restaurants and nightclubs include Cabo Wabo Cantina, owned by former Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar, and El Squid Roe.

Not that Cabo San Lucas is only about partying.

"You also have your very well-known hotels such as Finisterra, where the fishermen go," said Elyse Elkin, senior director of Mexico and Latin America for Travel Impressions, based in Farmingdale, N.Y.

"And certainly the fishermen who get up at 4 a.m. aren't party animals," she said.

San Jose del Cabo, Rosas said, "is a more traditional Mexican small town ... architecturally, a little more organized and uniform," with a church, shops and restaurants around its main avenue.

The Tourist Corridor along the road between those towns, Rosas said, is a 25-mile stretch where most of Los Cabos' luxury resorts and golf courses are located.

The introduction of inclusive resorts was another significant shift for Los Cabos, beginning with El Presidente Hotel in 1994, the conversion of the Fiesta Inn in 1999 and the opening of the Royal Solaris in August.

"[Inclusives] have brought in a newer, younger-type crowd," Elkin said.

Activity-wise, how does Los Cabos compare with other Mexican resort destinations?

Operators agree Los Cabos is Mexico's leading destination for world class golf as well as fishing, although some point out that, as a desert peninsula, the regions lack of indigenous culture makes it less attractive for families to explore than, for example, the Yucatan.

Others said they see Los Cabos' appeal extending beyond its one-two punch.

"Los Cabos' reputation as a destination has evolved over the past couple of years," said George Hunter, director of product development for Mexico at Classic Custom Vacations in San Jose, Calif.

"Initially, I think we saw it as a quick weekend getaway for Californians," he said, adding that golf and restaurant developments have made Los Cabos more of a resort destination for longer stays.

"[Los Cabos] is marketable to every type of consumer and really not an age-specific destination," said Colette Baruth, director of marketing for Mexico and Latin America at Gogo Worldwide Vacations in Ramsey, N.J.

"You have a sleepy town [San Jose del Cabo] and a town that's a bit younger and livelier [Cabo San Lucas]."

Although Los Cabos spans a large geographic area, Baruth said, "Somehow, it's not crowded and has managed to maintain its charm."

Another way for retailers to earn pay

NEW YORK -- Besides fishing and golfing, clients visiting Los Cabos can go snorkeling, sign up for a guided dune-buggy tour or spot gray whales during their annual migration to the area, from December through March.

Gogo Worldwide Vacations, Classic Custom Vacations and Travel Impressions are three operators that pay commission on Los Cabos excursions booked in advance.

For example, Classic clients can prebook deep-sea fishing aboard a private boat for approximately $400 for up to four people, including tackle, bait and beverages.

Four-hour whale-watching and snorkeling cruises are both $40 per person. The latter includes snorkeling gear, a light lunch and open bar.

Citing the likelihood of prebooked activities being canceled or changed, other operators, such as Apple Vacations and Pleasant Holidays, opt to let clients choose their activities only upon arrival, and provide representatives at the destination to facilitate reservations.

For both Classic and Travel Impressions, no more than 10% of Los Cabos clients prebook their activities in advance, company representatives said.

"We put the optional tours in our brochures so [agents] can tell their clients about it," said Elyse Elkin, senior director of Mexico and Latin America at Travel Impressions.

"The thing we do more of [in advance] are golf tee-time requests, because that is a bit more of a hassle for them once they get down there."

George Hunter, director of product development for Mexico at Classic Custom Vacations, suggests making advance reservations, in particular for whale watching, because "it can be difficult to book a quality tour if you don't book ahead."

From Classic's experience in selling prepurchased activities with its Hawaii vacations, Hunter said, "there's a huge room for growth in that area as a way for agents to help their customers secure the vacation of their dreams in advance and maximize their opportunity for commission."

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