The Baja California destination of Los Cabos reported that visitor arrivals were up 8.8% in October, two months after the U.S. State Department named Baja California and other resort states in its updated Mexico travel warning. During this month's Los Cabos VIP Summit, held at the Paradisus Los Cabos, destinations editor Eric Moya spoke with Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of Los Cabos Tourism Board, about the destination's safety measures in the wake of that warning and its overall strategy for tourism growth.Q: What's your forecast for visitor growth for the year?
A: From January to October, we have had 17% more tourists to the destination, and we predict that that's going to be the trend to finish the year: We're going to close 2017 with an increase of 17%, around that number.
Southwest added 350,000 more seats into Los Cabos this year. That's an incredible number. Other airlines have also had increases. For example, United and American have been increasing their lift, Delta has been adding some flights and Air Canada capacity has grown 120% this year.
What we are aiming for is to have 70% occupancy at $300 per person; that's the average daily rate in Los Cabos. Even though this year we have probably 2,000 more rooms than a year ago, we are keeping the 70% goal. We don't want to be a destination with a 95% occupancy rate at $100 per person.
Q: What have you heard from suppliers following the State Department warning?
A: We had an advisory board meeting before the summit with our top 15 partners, and we were very clear, and we have been very clear since the beginning: Safety and security has always been a priority for Los Cabos. It's not just because of the travel warning, but it's always been a destination that is very united, and we care about the experience. ... We have a committee that is focused and dedicated just on safety and security, and that committee meets twice a month to review different elements and different practices. We have always had that focus on safety, but we've made it even more of a priority given the challenges we are facing.
Q: What are the challenges in delivering on that reassurance of safety without disrupting the visitor experience?
A: For example, at the marine base there's going to be an intelligence-monitoring center. They have thousands of screens that will be monitoring the destination and collecting intelligence on what is actually happening at the destination. That is better than having 2,000 marines on the highway moving all around.
We don't want to interfere with the experience of the guest, but we want to make sure that everything is fine. Accomplishing that with intelligence and communication is much better than heavy patrolling.
Q: Given some of the setbacks for the nation as a whole this year -- natural disasters, drug violence, the reports of tainted liquor and assaults on guests in the Riviera Maya -- are you in touch with other destination marketing organizations (DMOs) within Mexico?
A: We speak a lot with my colleagues in other destinations. We share experiences, we share practices and we share strategies. In our case, because of the level of service and the level of attention, and given that the properties are small, we're not dealing with any issues related to the alcohol.
Also, one element we have as an advantage is that all the supplies are very concentrated: This is sort of an island, so everything has to come through air or through boat, so it's very easy to control the quality of the products that are coming into the destination.
Q: What have been some takeaways from those discussions with other DMOs?
A: I think a big lesson has been the speed of communication. We need to be very fast, communicating exactly and providing the truth with transparency. We need to be fast, clear and direct.