One year later, a rejuvenated Los Cabos has put Odile behind it

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The Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos reopened on Sept. 15, one year and one day after Hurricane Odile hit.
The Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos reopened on Sept. 15, one year and one day after Hurricane Odile hit.

It was one year ago that Hurricane Odile slammed the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, the strongest storm to ever make landfall there.

The Category 3 hurricane packed winds as high as 127 mph; shuttered and damaged dozens of resorts, homes and businesses; temporarily closed the airport; injured hundreds of people; and stranded more than 30,000 tourists.

Most tourists were safely evacuated within days in a massive effort that included military planes, charter flights and hundreds of buses, and commercial flights resumed on Oct. 18 despite significant damage to the airport’s two terminals.

But today the destination, which includes the two resort areas of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, offers close to 14,000 hotel rooms. That is 1,000 less than its pre-storm inventory, but there are an additional 3,000 rooms in the pipeline over the next three years. Its current stock represents new properties as well as existing ones that flaunt redesigns and upgrades.

“We had a bad experience last September with the hurricane, but it represented an opportunity to renew our destination,” said Ruben Reachi, the recently appointed managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board who was tourism secretary of Baja California Sur at the time of the storm. “We have come back better than ever across our entire product line, including hotels, new brands, attractions, airlift, services and infrastructure.”

“Unstoppable” was the tag line of a massive promotional and marketing campaign mounted by the Mexico Tourism Board days after Odile’s onslaught, featuring TV ads, digital and social media engagement and events designed to get the word out that Los Cabos was back in business.

Communication and collaboration between government, hotels, airlines, attractions and tour operators was a key ingredient of the campaign, along with fast-paced recovery efforts that saw some hotels reopening within a month of the storm.

By mid-January, more than 40 hotels representing 8,871 rooms were open, operating and welcoming visitors.

“Hurricane Odile left a footprint forever,” said Luis Palacios, commercial director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. “It was the most aggressive storm ever to hit this region, but no lives were lost, and we did learn a lot.”

Lessons learned included being better prepared before a storm arrives, such as having satellite phones for the hotel association and the tourist board to communicate if services are out, Palacios said.

The system was tested in June when tropical storm Blanca was predicted to dump up to five inches of rain over

the region. The storm fizzled out in the end, “but it was a good test for us,” said Palacios.

As Los Cabos gears up for the peak winter season, all signs point to a banner year.

By the end of 2015, the number of airline seats to Los Cabos will be up 10.7% over last year, thanks to new airlift from Delta, United, Spirit, Southwest, Alaska and WestJet.

The pace of hotel recovery following the storm was stunning, beginning with the Sheraton Hacienda Resort & Spa, which reopened Nov. 1, 2014, followed by Secrets Puerto Los Cabos two weeks later. Properties that upgraded and got new looks include Esperanza; Hotel Marquis; the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort; One&Only Palmilla; the Resort at Pedregal; and Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort.

Many new hotels brands opened in Los Cabos this year, including the Cape, a Thompson Hotel, and a Hampton Inn & Suites, openings Reachi saw as “a sign of confidence on the part of investors, developers and hotel companies.”

Debuts still to come in 2015 and 2016 include properties from JW Marriott, Park Hyatt, Breathless, Hard Rock Hotels, Auberge, Ritz-Carlton, Montage, Nobu, Grand Solmar and Starwood.

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