Acapulco and Mazatlan, two Pacific coast resort cities whose images have been tarnished by Mexico's drug wars, are on the offensive, fighting back with strong promotional campaigns, tourist-centered festivals and events and enhanced security measures in efforts to change overall visitor perceptions of the destinations.
Acapulco, in particular, has become a symbol of the human and economic toll exacted by Mexico's ongoing war with rival drug cartels that battle for control of the city and the state of Sinaloa.
Tourism numbers in Acapulco dropped measurably last year. No tourists have been victims of drug-related crimes, despite graphic photos and headlines reporting gruesome cartel violence that creeps close to the tourist quarter at times.
In a good year, Acapulco welcomes more than 9 million annual visitors. Between 2006, when President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels, and late 2011, the number of tourists jetting into Acapulco had fallen by 50%.
U.S. visitors to Acapulco in 2011 numbered approximately 60,000, according to the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office.
The most recent U.S. State Department travel warning advised Americans visiting Acapulco to defer nonessential travel to areas no farther than two blocks inland of Costera Miguel Aleman Boulevard, which parallels the popular beach areas.
In the wake of a successful turnout and reception at the recent Tianguis Turistico trade show, which had been hosted by Acapulco for 36 years but was moved this year to Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit to showcase other regions, Acapulco launched its "Remember Acapulco" campaign and its English-language website www.rememberacapulco.com.
It also announced partnerships with several airlines and wholesalers, including MLT Vacations, Gogo, Travelocity and Expedia, on package programs and promotions.
Components of the new tourism campaign include the use of social media to highlight attractions, events, new hotel products and security measures as part of the on-the-ground efforts to change the overall perception of Acapulco.
"These co-op activities include travel packages, travel agent specials in addition to radio spots in target markets, advertorials in trade and consumer publications as well as in newspapers in key markets, online marketing and direct mail, Web banners and Acapulco posters in VIP lounges," said Pedro Haces Sordo, president of the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office.
At the same time, the city hopes to rekindle some of the glamour and glitz long associated with its days as the playground of Hollywood stars and Mexico's first resort destination.
"We are excited to move forward with these partnerships as well as Acapulco's new revitalization program, which aims to educate the consumer on the strides being made within the destination and to regain the confidence of the travel industry as a whole," Haces said.
"Acapulco is on the rise. In addition to new investments being made, average hotel occupancies increase on a daily basis, further proof that Acapulco continues to improve," according to Haces.
Hotel occupancies rose toward the end of 2011, averaging 85% during holiday weekends; restaurants, clubs and local businesses also reported increases due to the influx of visitors at these times.
Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, COO of the Mexico Tourism Board, emphasized that "we are not abandoning Acapulco."
He pointed out new security measures enacted by the federal government and the state of Guerrero to help reduce crime activity.
In addition, funds are more available to assist hotel owners who want to renovate and upgrade their properties, he said.
Acapulco also is the focus of a series of testimonial ads appearing on TV this spring from visitors and expats who praise Acapulco as a safe destination.
The rebranded Acapulco includes an array of new hotels, sports and entertainment complexes as well as a series of initiatives and investments to renew the port area, secure more airlift and boost hotel occupancies.
New this year is the Turtle Danes Country Club & Golf Course that opened in February at the Fairmont Acapulco Princess, the Holiday Inn La Isla property in Acapulco's Condesa neighborhood and the Expo at Mundo Imperial convention center, all in the Diamond Zone high-end resort area, to be followed by a new 27,000-seat soccer stadium later this year.
One initiative is the newly formed Advisory Council for the Recovery of the Traditional Zone, a celebrated neighborhood that is home to the zocalo, the city's main square; the Fort of San Diego; and several boutique hotels, including the retro-chic Hotel Boca Chica and the Hotel Flamingos, situated atop a cliff near where the legendary La Quebrada cliff divers perform and once a popular spot for vacationing Hollywood stars.
Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Slim, wealthy business magnate and philanthropist, chairs the Advisory Council, whose main objective is to protect, restore and revitalize Acapulco.
Slim is pushing for funding for a marine museum, more transportation improvements and new hotel developments, primarily in Acapulco's historical section.
Infrastructure improvements include a new Acabus transportation system that will run from the Traditional Zone to the Diamond Zone, home to the newest builds in resorts and shopping malls, and the construction of a tunnel to connect the Golden Zone, the main tourism area, to the Diamond Zone.
In addition, the new campaign continues to promote Guerrero Seguro (Safe Guerrero), a multimillion-dollar initiative launched late last year whose aim is to clean up Acapulco and Guerrero and help visitors feel comfortable on the roads, in taxis and while sampling nightlife.
Components include new lighting along Costera Miguel Aleman, the placement of more than 600 surveillance cameras in the tourist areas and the deployment of federal security forces to oversee nighttime law enforcement.
The security forces reinforce the English-speaking tourist police officers, dressed in white and light-blue uniforms, who patrol the main tourist areas, assist visitors and help deter petty street crime.
"The goal is to regain confidence," said Graciela Baez Ricardez, Guerrero's head of tourism.
"We realize that Acapulco has faced many challenges over the past few years. We want to remind travelers why they fell in love with Acapulco in the first place," she said.
"This was a destination that attracted the world's elite travelers, and the glamour, charm and hospitality still exist and need to be brought back to the forefront."
For Caribbean and Mexico news, follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.