2017 wasn’t very good to Los Cabos. Last summer, a series of high-profile gang violence incidents and issues with tainted alcohol caught the attention of the U.S. media.
Eventually, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Los Cabos and other destinations, though the U.S. government did not change its overall security ranking for the region.
As tourism arrivals dipped across the country, the Mexican government, private industry and local police officials set about making its popular vacation destinations safer. In Los Cabos, the development of a 5-point security plan included a stepped-up police presence; enhanced communications between hotels, resorts and law enforcement; more security cameras; and the construction of a $9-million-dollar regional emergency response center.
As a result, violent crime in Los Cabos is down about 90 percent since last October, officials claim, covering an assortment of activities, including armed robbery, extortion and kidnapping. Independent sources peg the fall in homicides to be closer to 60-70 percent.
This year, Los Cabos is on target to break tourism records, with overall visitation increasing seven percent to 2.7 million, up from 2.45 million in 2017, said Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of Los Cabos Tourism Board. During Mexico’s slow month of September, there was a 24.4 percent increase in visitors this year.
Esponda, who called 2017 a “wake up call” for the region on a recent American Society of Travel Advisors webinar, told Travel Market Report that “Los Cabos is safer than ever and we have done a very strong job with our destination partners to make sure that message has filtered down in the industry and to the consumer.”
Experiential travel options expand on the peninsula
While the stepped-up security is perceivable, what remains, says Esponda, is the essence of the southern end of Mexico’s Baja peninsula and why people come to vacation there.
“Our visitor wants to connect to what’s real, that leaves a lasting mark on them and that can’t be found or experienced the same way back home,” said Esponda. “They want the kind of place that feels new but invites them to feel a part of it at the same time.”
In a 2017 tourism survey, leisure visitors told the tourism board that the top reasons for visiting Los Cabos were overwhelmingly for the sun and the beach (72.5 percent), followed by
honeymoons (7.1 percent), and weddings (3.4 percent). In fact, Los Cabos ranks second among Mexican beach resorts for international tourists after Cancun.
“Los Cabos’ unique location, where the desert meets the sea, is a natural and inspiring place. Our sunrises, sunsets, natural beauty, marine life and focus on luxury and sophistication allows couples, and multigenerational families and friends, to choose from experiences that connect them with their surroundings and each other,” he said.
The fastest-growing segment for the region is families and young married couples with kids, Esponda said. “The profile of Los Cabos visitors are active travelers who are dreaming of international destinations that are further flung and maybe a bit more exotic, authentic and off the beaten path. With the great diversity of experiences and strong products that the destination has to offer, all types of travelers can find their place in Los Cabos.”
One example is a new glamping experience that combines a guided mountain bike ride with a stay at a mountaintop camp overlooking the Sea of Cortez. There are also a number of new “meet the locals” experiences that connect travelers with locals engaged in the arts, cuisine or entrepreneurship.
Los Cabos enhances that experience with many rules and regulations meant to retain the feeling of a less fettered and modern destination. For example, cruise ships cannot dock in the harbor of old town Los Cabos. They have to tend from the middle of the bay, which means no more than three cruise ships can be in port at one time.
The region closely regulates development, with 42 percent of the acreage restricted as Natural Protected Areas. There also are local colonies of sea lions, as well as sanctuaries for marine turtles.
Additionally, the region has banned billboards, and local hotels are kept to a maximum of five stories, attempting to bring the feeling of the vast Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez into their properties with features like whale-watching vantage points.
But, don’t let the old-world essence fool you. Los Cabos is growing and changing, like the rapid growth in farm-to-table restaurant options, Esponda said.
“The restaurants opening have very sophisticated cuisines,” he said, borrowing on the cultures and traditions of chefs moving to the region from outside of Mexico. “Chefs and cooks go out of their way to be creative, to bring influences from different regions of Mexico, from the U.S. and France,” he said.
New accommodations are set to open
On the accommodations side, the region will open 17 new hotels through 2021, representing an investment of more than $1 billion in more than 5,000 additional rooms. The growth includes 2,469 new rooms added this year, including 174 ocean-view guestrooms, suites and residences at the Montage Cabo San Lucas; and the 128-room Solaz Resort by Marriott, which opened on the Sea of Cortez this autumn.
Next year, 2,079 rooms will come online, including the Zadún, a 115-room Ritz-Carlton Reserve hotel on the Puerto Los Cabos coast; as well as the Japanese-styled, 200-room Nobu Los Cabos, with a branch of the Nobu restaurant and the Malibu Farm, a farm-to-table restaurant. New rooms coming online will slow in 2020, down to 135; and 423 rooms being added in 2021.
The region has 17,000 hotel rooms available today, including 1,100 deluxe rooms in seven hotels, 6,500 rooms in the all-inclusive category, and 50 rooms in three boutique hotels.
In addition, the new expansion at the Los Cabos International Airport will allow the destination to bring in more new flights and routes. Nine new flights have been added for the next three months, adding more than 36,000 seats to an airport that already has direct service from 25 U.S. cities and eight in Canada.
For travel advisors, the destination has launched its new agent portal, which includes downloadable maps, pictures and videos, as well as meeting planner and hotel guides. And Los Cabos also has launched a “New Top 10” initiative spotlighting 10 new experiences in Los Cabos to draw back repeat visitors, which will soon be supported by a new website.