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Mexico's Mazatlán throws a party for U.S., Canadian travel partners
Travel Agent / November 20, 2004

By Larry Luxner

MAZATLAN, Mexico — Tourism officials in the Pacific beach resort of Mazatlán say their city is finally bouncing back after a slump blamed on competition from other up-and-coming Mexican beach destinations like Cancún, Cozumel and Los Cabos.

They credit Mazatlán's recovery to aggressive marketing efforts in the United States, and from Nov. 4-7 held the resort's 10th annual Gran Fiesta Amigos de Mazatlán to thank wholesalers, tour operators, airlines and incentive travel companies for their cooperation.

"You've been supporting the destination for many years, but we need more help," said Carlos Berdegué, CEO of El Cid Resorts and vice-president of the Mazatlán Hotel Association (MHA). "You need to explain to your staff what the destination is about, to help us spread the word that Mazatlán is changing and improving."

At a lavish brunch party held at the Pueblo Bonito Hotel at Emerald Bay, Berdegué and other MHA officials presented Golden Deer Awards to eight companies for their efforts to promote Mazatlán:

* America West Airlines, for adding daily service from Los Angeles to Mazatlán.

* The Mark Travel Corp, a Milwaukee-based charter operator, for adding air service from Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

* U.S. wholesaler Apple Vacations for being the top producer fo Mazatlán hotels.

* Internet promoter Expedia.

* Canadian charter operator Signature Vacations for starting new flights from Toronto and Montreal.

* Mexican airline Mexicana, for adding flights from Mexico City and Monterrey.

* Mexican wholesaler Linusa for outstanding production, bringing more than 10,000 tourists to Mazatlán so far this year.

* Mexican charter operator Magnicharter for flying charter flights year-round from Monterrey, and for adding service from Chihuahua, Torreón and Ciudad Juárez.

The MHA, along with the Sinaloa state government, is spending $500,000 in advertising this year; for 2005, the budget for international advertising and marketing will be $1.5 million.

"Mazatlán is getting rediscovered," said María Rojas-Fox, Mexico product manager at America West. "It's different from years ago, when Mazatlán was well-known for spring break and student tours in June. More and more people want to come and see the new Mazatlán, which is more family-oriented."

The city of 300,000 inhabitants boasts one of Mexico's largest Pacific fishing ports as well as the world's second-tallest lighthouse. Other sites of interest include the historic Ángela Peralta Theater, the seven-mile-long Zona Dorada hotel strip and the nearby colonial towns of Copala, Concorida and El Quelite.

Rojas-Fox, who accepted the award on behalf of her airline, said America West now offers eight flights a week to Mazatlán from its Phoenix hub. Other airlines with direct service to Mazatlán include Continental (from Houston), Frontier (from Denver) and Alaska Airlines (from Los Angeles).

This winter, Northwest will begin flying from Minneapolis, and negotiations with other airlines may result in direct flights from Atlanta, Dallas and Memphis as well.

Gilberto Aviles, commercial director for El Cid and coordinator of the MHA's marketing committee, said scheduled airlift to Mazatlán is up 50% this year compared to 2003, with about 10,000 tourists arriving weekly from the United States and Canada.

"We are are focusing more on the West Coast states where we can compete with a more affordable airfare," he said. "For the past three years, we've been guaranteeing the airlines a break-even point in order to increase lift into Mazatlán. Last year, we had 5,500 seats a week and we were not able to fill the hotel rooms, so we brought a lot of groups and conventions from Mexico."

Aviles said Mazatlán has around 8,000 hotel rooms in 60 properties, and that average hotel occupancy is running about 60%.

The United States accounts for 30-35% of the Mazatlán tourist market. Canada is another 15%. The remaining 50% is internal Mexican tourism. The Americans stay in Mazatlán 4.8 days on average, compared to 3.2 days for the typical Mexican tourist.

On the other hand, Mexican tourists actually pay about 15% for hotel rooms than their American counterparts.

"The Mexicans who come here are wealthy people, mostly from the states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Jalisco and Sinaloa," said Aviles, whereas the Americans are generally middle-class travelers on budget packages.

At the El Cid complex, which has 1,310 rooms in four properties, the average room rate for Americans is $75-80, but for Mexicans it's $95.

Javier Paez, sales manager at the El Cid Marina, said one reason Mazatlán is such a cheap destination is that it lacks marketing power compared to Cancún or the Riviera Maya.

"Those destinations are backed by hotels with recognizable brands like Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Hilton and Marriott, so they have a big budget for promotion and they're well-positioned in the vacation industry," he explained. "When the hotel associations invite airlines to fly to those destinations, the airlines don't hesitate to venture there."

Paez claimed that Fonatur, Mexico's federal tourism agency, "actively promoted Cancún, Los Cabos, Ixtapa, Loreto and Huatulco because Fonatur officials had invested in hotel properties there. It's a secret that a lot of people know. And when the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party] was in power, the press never wrote about it because most of them were being bought off."

Mazatlán, on the other hand, was never promoted much by Fonatur because its hotel properties were and remain locally owned, he said.

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