CANCUN — The laid-back vacation vibe at the Grand at Moon Palace, the new all-inclusive luxury resort here, seemed far removed from recent anxiety-inducing headlines about Mexico. And that's exactly the vibe that agents attending the 2017 Mark Travel Summit at the resort late last month were hoping to bring back with them.
"I think that our clients just wanted reassurance that we felt safe enough to travel [to Mexico]," said Gayle Zielke, president of Waukesha, Wis.-based First Choice Travel & Cruise.
For that reason, added her daughter, Gesica Zelechowksi, a communication coordinator and travel planner at First Choice, "Us coming here was a really good thing."
Agents attending the conference reported that since the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning in August citing an uptick in homicides, including in some of the country's popular resort areas such as Cancun, clients have been calling with concerns.
But they also said partners like Mark Travel have been feeding them information about safety and security in various Mexico destinations. The agents, in turn, have conveyed the facts to clients, which has helped keep many Mexico bookings intact.
Suppliers and agents hope that being able to provide additional firsthand assurances will help fuel more forward bookings, which some agents said have stalled somewhat since the warning.
"It's been a tough year," Bill LaMacchia Jr., Mark Travel's chief engagement officer, told a ballroom full of agents on the first day of the event. "We've had some challenges, but we've been through many challenges before."
LaMacchia invited Marisol Vanegas Perez, secretary of tourism for the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, on stage to talk about the state of tourism.
Perez said Quintana Roo welcomes more than 16 million visitors a year and that more than 18,000 additional hotel rooms are in the pipeline, to be added within the next two years, on top of the nearly 100,000 that are already open in the region.
"This speaks volumes of the quality of our services, trust of the investors as well as the huge growth potential to come," Perez said.
Hoteliers and suppliers that partner with Mark Travel reported that despite any recent setbacks for Mexico's tourism industry, the investments have not stopped pouring in.
"Our company has tremendous faith in Mexico," said Todd Kirlik, corporate director of global sales and account development for Blue Diamond Resorts, which owns the Royalton, Memories and Chic resort brands. Blue Diamond has a Royalton property in the works in Cancun, and it recently acquired land in Costa Mujeres, where a 1,000-room property is planned.
Suppliers were hopeful that the several hundred agents attending the Mark Travel confab produce a wealth of positive feedback that will help spur a rebound in business to Mexico.
"They really are the ones who are out there turning the consumer [sentiment] around," said Mandy Chomat, vice president of sales and marketing for Karisma Hotels and Resorts.
While some hoteliers, such as Palace Resorts, which was hosting the Mark Travel event, said its Mexico business has remained steady, Chomat and representatives of other hotel companies said they had taken a hit following a series of negative headlines about Mexico.
In addition to the travel warning, those headlines trumpeted reports of illicit or tainted alcohol being served at resorts and back-to-back earthquakes in Central Mexico.
But the hoteliers said November is their strongest booking month, with people making travel plans for the first quarter of the new year, and they were hopeful that a bounce-back this month will help offset any losses they have experienced.
Those losses ranged from 10% to 20% compared with last year. In addition to positive marketing messages and some promotional activity, they're banking on winter's arrival in the U.S. to help push bookings.
"In the Midwest and Northeast, let it snow!" Chomat said. "That would be great for us."