Tourism board creates ad campaign to promote storm region

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CANCUN -- The Mexico Tourism Board (MTB) launched a $10 million recovery media campaign abroad to promote leisure destinations affected by Hurricane Wilma, as hotels, resorts and visitor attractions in Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya assessed storm damage and began announcing tentative reopening dates.

According to MTB Chief Executive Francisco Ortiz, the print and television campaign is just one in a series of advertising and marketing initiatives leading up to a relaunch event on Dec. 15, the date by which Mexican President Vicente Fox has pledged 80% of affected destinations would reopen.

Local tourism interests are, predictably, upbeat about the pace of recovery.

We have plenty of hotel rooms, and every day resorts, attractions and restaurants are reopening, said Julian Balbuena, general manager of Cancun-based incoming operator Best Day Travel.

The market is reacting positively and strongly ... [and] we recommend travelers dont cancel or simply postpone trips.

To that end, Mexicos federal government is pledging millions of dollars to help Cancun, Cozumel and other destinations in Quintana Roo state recover from Wilma, which tore through the area in late October.

Mexico City is exempting all investments in storm-affected areas from paying federal tax through June, and will allow affected businesses to pay Social Security taxes and utility bills in interest-free installments.

In addition, Mexican national tourism trust Fonatur will commit $20 million to restoring beachfronts along Cancuns Caribbean coast and another $10 million to infrastructure repairs, while some $820 million in bank financing and loans will be made available to hotels and small- and midsize businesses in affected areas.

Cozumel will enjoy similar recovery assistance, according to Mexico Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo

Federal officials such as Elizondo estimate Wilma could cost Cancun and the surrounding region some $800 million in tourist revenue this year.

Visitors to Cancun, Cozumel and nearby destinations generate some 38% of Mexicos estimated $11 billion annual tourism income, according to official statistics.

Cancun hotel tally

The MTB is positioning the promotional campaign as a second stage in area recovery efforts, claiming that visitor evacuations and the initial clean-up have been completed and most basic public services restored.

Cancuns international airport resumed full operations Nov. 1. Delta, Continental and US Airways were slated to resume flying in from all their U.S. hubs by Nov. 12.

According to Ortiz, many hotels in Cancun and its environs are operating again, as international visitors begin to return.

In fact, according to local tourist board, tour operator and hotelier reports, nearly 19% of the citys 27,500 guest units were already back on line as of Nov. 4.

The Cancun Convention and Visitor Bureau (CCVB) estimates that as of Nov. 4, 5,200 guest rooms in the city had reopened; The Mexico Tourism Board announced a $10 million ad campaign to get Cancun, seen here, and other Yucatan destinations damaged by Hurricane Wilma back on their feet.if all goes well, 8,700 were to be ready by Nov. 25.

The number is expected to climb to 15,800 by Dec. 15; 16,800 by Dec. 23; and some 20,900 by Jan. 15.

Cancun hotels already accepting guests this month include Gran Costa Real Resort and Spa and Riu Palace Las Americas, both open at press time, and Le Meridien Cancun Resort and Spa, to reopen on Nov. 20.

Between Dec. 1 and 22, guests can check in at Gran Caribe Real Resort and Spa (tower only), Secrets Excellence, Dreams Cancun Resort and Spa, Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort, Beach Palace, Riu Caribe, Sheraton Cancun Resort and Towers, NH Krystal, Westin Resort and Spa Cancun and Oasis Viva and Oasis Beach.

Also reopening Dec. 15 is the Presidente InterContinental Cancun, where the hurricane actually added some 15 feet to the beachfront, which faces Bahia de Mujeres.

Come January, higher-end properties such as the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun and J.W. Marriott Cancun Resort and Spa will join the Marriott Casa Magna Cancun Resort, Sun Palace, Avalon Baccara Cancun and Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun and Grand Coral Beach Cancun in reopening.

Delayed beyond January are Palace Resorts Cancun Palace, Le Blanc Spa Resort and Sun Palace, to reopen Feb. 1; the Hyatt Regency Cancun, ready March 1; and the Avalon Grand Cancun, to open May 1.

Club Med said it plans to reopen its 428-room Cancun resort sometime next spring; guests holding reservations can rebook at another Club Med resort through Dec. 31.

Major properties for which no reopening date had been set at press time included the Hilton Cancun Beach and Golf Resort, Holiday Inn Express Cancun and Hyatt Cancun Caribe Villas.

Sol Melia Hotels and Resorts shuttered its five Cancun and Cozumel properties -- the Gran Melia Cancun, Melia Turquesa Beach Resort, Sol Cabanas del Caribe, Paradisus Riviera Cancun and Melia Cozumel -- pending further damage assessment.

Open hotels on Cozumel include the Days Inn, Flamingo and Casa Mexicana.

In the longer term, the Playa Azul and Casa del Mar reopen by Dec. 15, with the Coral Princess, Fiesta Americana and Occidental Allegro and Occidental Grand reopening by Feb. 1.

Shuttered until further notice are the Hacienda San Miguel, El Cozumeleno, Presidente InterContinental, Reef Club and Cozumel Palace.

Meanwhile, a Royal Caribbean passenger ship will be the first cruise to call at Cozumel since Wilma, anchoring on the island Nov. 14, according to the MTBs Ortiz.

Cozumels airport is operational -- with daily flights from Mexicana, thrice-weekly service from Continental to Houston, and three flights a week from Dallas on American as of Dec. 16 -- and electricity and water have been restored to 90% of the island, according to Raul Marrufo, director of the Cozumel Tourism Promotion Board.

Riviera Maya dodges bullet

Farther south, the Riviera Maya -- lashed by Hurricane Emily in July -- was largely spared this time around, and properties prepared to reopen relatively quickly.

For example, Blue Parrot Hotels in Playa del Carmen said its three properties -- Blue Parrot Hotel, Blue Parrot Suites and Blue Parrot on 5th Avenue -- were operating at 75% capacity immediately after Wilma hit.

Reports ... that Playa del Carmen was destroyed were highly exaggerated, said Blue Parrot Hotels owner Tom Doody in an Oct. 28 statement. Yes, cleanup is still under way, but ... our tourist district will be back to normal in no time.

Juan Pedro Mercader, Mexicos federal undersecretary of tourism development, estimates 13,700 rooms will reopen along the Riviera Maya by Nov. 15, increasing to 17,400 by Dec.15.

Real Resorts Royal Porto Real Playa del Carmen Resort and Spa -- which had just celebrated a grand opening Oct. 16 -- is open, as is the chains Gran Porto Real Resort and Spa and Real Playa del Carmen.

Paraiso de la Bonita Resort and Thalasso sustained damage to its dock, beachfront restaurant, gardens and a pool terrace, and plans to reopen on Jan. 22.

EcoTulum Resorts and Spa reports its three rustic boutique hotels and Maya Spa in Tulum had reopened as of Oct. 31.

Attractions bounce back

All nine Cancun area golf courses will reopen soon, with the Playacar and Mayan Resorts courses fully open at press time; Iberostars in full operation by Nov. 15; Cozumel Country Club open its first nine holes Nov. 5 and the rest by Dec. 15; Moon Palace reopening Nov. 30; Hilton Cancun reportedly reopening Dec. 15, along with the Cancun Golf Club at Pok ta Pok; El Camaleon at the new Fairmont Mayakoba opening as planned Jan. 15 and the Playa Mujeres course opening in April.

The Dolphin Discovery attractions at Puerto Aventuras and Isla Mujeres were scheduled to be in operation by press time, as was the Cancun Convention Center.

Meanwhile, the Xel-Ha and Xcaret eco-adventure parks, which were already recovering from Hurricane Emily in July, will reopen Dec. 1 and 12, respectively. 

For the latest updates, visit such sites as the CCVBs www.cancun.info, Cozumels www.islacozumel.com.mx or the Riviera Maya Tourism Promotion Boards www.rivieramaya.com/eng/infocenter.htm.

To contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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