Los Cabos has been admittedly one of the strictest resort destinations in Mexico when it comes to reopening protocols during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlike other tourist destinations in Mexico, Los Cabos has maintained one of the slowest and most stringent recovery procedures in the country. As we head into 2021, Los Cabos continues to maintain its steadfast protocols, but it is expecting to make a full recovery in terms of tourism losses by the end of next year.
"We are having a steady recovery," Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board, told Travel Weekly. "We have recovered in terms of international visitors. We closed October with 75% compared to last year, and we closed November with 65%."
He also noted that international visitors from October to November had increased. More than 100,000 visitors came to the destination within the month, and the Los Cabos Tourism Board expects to close the year with about 70% the number of visitors it had a year prior.
"By the end of 2021, we expect to be completely recovered from the downturn."
What Is Los Cabos doing differently?
Compared with other destinations in Mexico, Los Cabos has been rigid about its reopening measures, always erring on the side of overly cautious. While other destinations' resort capacities are above 60%, and have been for several months, Los Cabos has only just recently raised its resort capacity to 50%.
"The way we see it, it's a different model," Esponda said. "The destination in Los Cabos, what it is providing is value for the experience."
According to Esponda, the average daily rate before the pandemic, and today during it, is three times what other destinations are charging.
"The level of safety that we are providing has to be here because of the type of client that is opting to come to Los Cabos in this difficult context."
Private aviation, he said, has been growing 140%, which gives an indication of the demographic of travelers visiting to Los Cabos during the pandemic. The average stay is longer for these travelers, as well. There is a seven-day average stay for vacations to Los Cabos during this time, and the average spending per visitor has increased by 25%.
In terms of other restrictions, Los Cabos has prohibited the reopening of nightclubs or discos. A curfew has been in place, but it was recently increased to midnight. Everything must be shut down by midnight, including hotel services.
With an increase in hotel capacity means an increase in passengers flying through the airport, which can make a considerable difference in the travel experience from a social distancing standpoint. To tackle this, Los Cabos Airport has hired 25 new employees with the specific task to advise visitors through the process of going through the airport, including filling out the forms and maintaining safety.
Los Cabos has worked with immigration to have more incremental officers, as well, especially during peak times.
"We don't want visitors to feel like they are landing in pre-pandemic times," said Esponda. "[We want to avoid] that feeling of getting to a cramped area where you have to stay for too long. We want to have enough officers in the area to expedite the process of clearing immigration. At peak times we want to have 20 immigration officers on duty."
Lastly, Los Cabos is also one of the only destinations in Mexico that has teamed up with an additional third-party health and safety assurance program. Earlier this year, Los Cabos partnered with Intertek Crystal, which launched a new certification specifically for destinations. The company visits Los Cabos, inspects its facilities and verifies that they are adhering to high standards.
"We have a big opportunity to position Los Cabos as the best option to travel in the Covid-19 context," Esponda said. "We have a very holistic way of seeing things. We are not saying, 'Come to Los Cabos and forget about Covid.' We know this is a tough situation for everyone. We are caring about our visitors and community in the most comprehensive way."
What the numbers show
From a numbers perspective, it would seem that stricter protocols are making an impact, which can be a source of relief for travelers, especially in light of the latest CDC warnings urging travelers to refrain from trips to Mexico. That said, Covid-19 cases are published on a state level, so it is difficult to narrow it down to specific resort destinations, especially when so much of the daily population is transient or international.
According to The New York Times, as of Tuesday in Baja California Sur (the state where Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo are located) the total number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic has been just under 16,000, with 102 cases in the past seven days. That number seems remarkably low when looking at other destinations like Mexico City, whose total number is over 264,000 with a seven-day change of more than 4,000.
But when looking at other tourist destination states, like Quintana Roo, for example, Baja California Sur seems on par. Quintana Roo has had 15,000 total cases, with only 40 in the past seven days. Quintana Roo, right now, is open with one of the highest allowed resort capacity -- 60%.
By comparison, the state of Nayarit has reported just over 7,500 total cases with only 21 new cases in the past week, while the state of Jalisco is showing 46,000 total cases, with 309 new cases in the past week.
Looking to 2021
The Los Cabos Tourism Board is confident that the destination will make a full recovery by the end of next year. As we look toward 2021, here are some of the things that agents should have on their radars:
First, Los Cabos is preparing a new luxury guide for high-end travelers and luxury travel advisors. This detailed guidebook will list all the options for high net worth travelers, so that agents can have the most up-to-date information on pricing and details when putting together high-budget trips.
"Once [advisors] go through the book, they will think of many other things they can book in the destination that they have not thought about before," said Esponda. Some examples he cited were booking private astronomy tours, lectures with biologists and other deep-dive experiences to showcase what makes Los Cabos such a unique destination.
Los Cabos is also working on a new weddings guide. The weddings market has been one of the strongest niches at the destination since reopening. The market has seen smaller weddings in terms of size, but with the same budgets as would have been in place for larger weddings. In the new wedding guides advisors will be able to see villas, properties and garden spaces as well as all the wedding suppliers.
The travel industry is waiting with bated breath to see how travel changes once the vaccine becomes widely available. Los Cabos has a few predictions with respect to its visitor demographic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the largest group to drop in travel numbers is the age 60-plus crowd, understandably. That said, Los Cabos has seen travelers ages 30-40 increase proportionally.
"In countries like the U.S., Canada and the U.K., people 60-plus have a priority for the vaccine," said Esponda. "What is going to happen is as soon as that bracket starts getting vaccinated, they will travel, and look for travel, because they have refrained for a year."
In preparation, the destination promises to continue its rigorous and strict protocols, because even with the promise of a vaccine, it is not the time to relax on safety and health.
"We need to keep applying the protocols in the same way," said Esponda said. "That, I think, is one point we still need to keep -- the good management of Covid-19. The destination needs to keep reinforcing its measures."
Still, Los Cabos feels it has positioned itself as the ideal destination for travel to Mexico in 2021.
"We have seen, on average, visitors are spending 20% more than before on restaurants and tours. It's because they want private experiences," Esponda said. "It presents an opportunity for the destination. You are obtaining more revenue per visitor, and that's the ideal situation. You are offering value to the visitors instead of looking for volume. It's very good in the mindset of how suppliers need to present the product. Focus more on the value, rather than the cheap option."