Like it did for every tourist destination in Mexico, the pandemic knocked the wind out of San Miguel de Allende. For four months, the entire city shut down -- this included hotels, restaurants, activities and pretty much everything else. It all stopped. But rather than dwell on the uncertainty and mourn the very certain loss in revenue, the destination took the opportunity to pause and reflect. It asked itself, "Who do we really want to be?"
"One of the good things that the pandemic left us was that we made a total stop and were able to reinvent San Miguel as we want to be," said Laura Torres-Septien, president of the San Miguel de Allende Tourism Board. "We came from very successful years that we [didn't have time to stop and think about what we wanted to be]. Now, with the pandemic, we were able to say we can go a way we never thought we were going to be able to do."
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The destination reopened in July 2020 and has been focused on showing off its new angles. Part of that new look is targeting different types of travelers and opening their minds to the offerings that San Miguel de Allende has in the surrounding areas. In recent years, the spotlight of San Miguel de Allende was focused on the historic and visually stunning downtown, typically the streets that fan out from its iconic beacon, the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. And for good reason: It is one of the most picture-perfect city centers in all of Mexico. Around it has risen a world-class list of luxury boutique hotels, sleek rooftop bars and chic restaurants. But while the destination has been most appealing to luxury adult travelers, it was rather limited in that that was really all who was visiting.
"San Miguel was always for the very adult tourist," said Torres-Septien. "I think that's why now we in the [tourism board] have a lot of material to offer, because we have a lot of things to tell [other kinds of travelers]."
The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
While the city itself has always been an oasis of culture, art and luxury, the surrounding areas of the city are brimming with outdoor activities that can draw in a new target demographic.
"Right now, we find that young people are coming in, as well as families," said Torres-Septien. "San Miguel de Allende was not always friendly for kids. But right now, with the kind of experiences [we are highlighting], families are coming."
Some of these activities include biking, horseback riding, ATV rental, hiking and exploring the nearby wineries. Although wineries aren't exactly family-friendly, it is an aspect of travel to San Miguel de Allende that the tourism board is highlighting as the world wakes up from the pandemic.
The city has always been pet-friendly, but now that has increased even more so. "People are wanting to travel with their pets," she said. "During the pandemic, people who got a pet have become very, very attached. Now most hotels and some of the restaurants are pet-friendly. The galleries will let you go inside them, and the stores, with pets. That's another fact that has changed in San Miguel."
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What remains constant, however, is that San Miguel de Allende is targeting a high-end traveler, and perhaps one who can stay for an extended period of time.
"We don't want tons of people," noted Torres-Septien. "We want the people that really appreciate what is San Miguel's traditions and art and to be respectful with all that San Miguel de Allende means."
The destination is rooted in its traditions, culture, gastronomy and elevated hotels. The tourism board is targeting travelers who are going to come and spend real time there, instead of making it a stop as part of a larger tour. They want long-term stays and to have those stays booked in hotels, rather than Airbnbs.
"The state of Guanajuato is placing more restrictions on short-term rentals," she said. "We want long-term stays. We want people to come to feel the experience of the hotel. We want them to experience the downtown with all the services and sanitization protocols. We prefer that people come to the hotels because it helps the economy."
To assist with this, travel advisors are likely to find their clients attractive rates when booking stays from Sunday to Thursday. Weekends still pose a challenge to find deals because of the number of weddings the destination hosts. But competitive rates can be found during the week, and when guests book longer stays at the hotels in town, they open themselves up to additional amenities like breakfast, spa treatments and more.
"One of the things that was very painful for San Miguel de Allende was the loss of the tourists from the United States," said Torres-Septien. "But from a month ago we found that the people from the States are coming." Right now, she said, they are starting to see numbers similar to what they were in 2019. "I think it is going to be great from now to the end of the year. It is going to be a great close to 2021."