Leaders of Resilience and Recovery
Leaders of Resilience and Recovery

The year the world changed—that is how 2020 will be remembered. This year, so dramatically marked by the coronavirus pandemic, it became clearer than ever that, in the face of challenges, adapting is the first step in moving forward. Thanks to the efforts and commitment of thousands of people, represented by a remarkable group of leaders, the Mexican Caribbean prevailed as a harbor of peace in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. During the first weeks of 2021, efforts have only sped up and the comeback of tourism is a reality.

March will be the one-year mark of this period of closure that, as never before, left hotel zones in the Mexican Caribbean practically empty. The state government, led by Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez, introduced a series of urgent actions to prevent the spread of the virus. These precautionary protocols were quickly implemented, with special emphasis on airports and hotels, and significant endeavors were made to train tourism workers in the area of hygiene management. As the months went by, these measures paid off, and they continue to be highly effective.

However, the path to recovery has been anything but uneventful. According to Mara Lezama, mayor of Cancun,by mid-2020 seven million expected passengers did not reach Cancun International Airport due to flight cancellations. This lack of inflow was a devastating blow to an economy that is 90 percent tourism-driven. Nevertheless, the local government understood that reopening would have to be gradual and organized. "The pandemic has been an opportunity for unity, a wake-up call for all to take care of the environment, to be more empathic, resilient, and responsible," Lezama stated.

Alex Zozaya, executive chairman of Apple Leisure Group and vice chair of the WTTC, agrees: "During the early months of the pandemic, sending the right message to the world was crucial. And so we did. Being among the first ones to open showed that we were alive, conveying out good signs without ignoring what was happening, but also enforcing safety protocols for visitors as well as for workers.

"Another decisive point for the steady come back of our emblematic destinations, such as Cancun, The Riviera Maya, Cozumel, and Tulum has been the speed with which the implementation of coordinated safety protocols was adopted. The internationally recognized "Safe Travels" protocol by the WTTC has proven to be efficient, reliable, and well accepted by all the international actors of the tourism industry. The Mexican Caribbean hoteliers ranked high at the top of the early-adopters' list, thanks to their unified response," Zozaya remarked.

With the progress that has been made thus far on the way to total reactivation, it's only a matter of time before international tourism reaches previous levels. In the words of Miquel Fluxà, owner of Iberostar Hotels and one of the most respected figures in the hotel industry, Mexico has the benefit of already having conquered the U.S. tourism market in that regard. As Fluxà explained, "Mexico has something very important: credibility from the American tourists, who are very demanding. Americans feel at home in Mexico."

The situation for the coming months in the Mexican Caribbean is also improving for new hotel chains. Oliver Reinhart, CEO of ATELIER de Hoteles, played a key role in unifying the hoteliers in the area. He is also confident that the changes made to hotel operations will continue to provide a safe environment for visitors of all ages and origins. "We have all the means in our hands to provide a risk-free stay for all tourists; in our case, innovation and technology have proven to be some of our greatest allies."

Another leading figure in this area is Eduardo Albor, general director of The Dolphin Company in Mexico. He concurs with Oliver, agreeing that some of the changes that emerged were inevitable even if there had been no virus; the pandemic simply accelerated them. "The pandemic has been a great catalyst in terms of how to reach the customer. I believe that today, more than ever, there will be higher investment in providing meaningful experiences rather than fixed assets."

Architect Miguel Quintana, founder of Xcaret, also agrees with Eduardo Albor. Xcaret, with its iconic entertainment parks and hotels, identified the need for change and meaning long before the pandemic arrived. "Over time, we realized that our customers were not just looking for sun and the beach; they also wanted to experience the destination, with its people and its traditions." According to Quintana, the pandemic will force all tourism companies to consider the importance of providing a meaningful experience to all visitors.

The last two months of 2020 showed an improvement in regard to international visitors, with a growing number of American visitors arriving in the Mexican Caribbean. "We had more flights than we expected. Cancun International Airport reopened earlier in comparison to other destinations. We had direct flights to over 31 different parts of the United States only four months after the reopening," explains Dario Flota, Director of the Tourism Promotion Board in Quintana Roo.

Even though the region faced other threats during the closure period, such as the formation of numerous hurricanes and the sargassum outbreak, coordinated work between government agencies and private initiative, represented by the Hotel Association of Cancun, headed by Roberto Cintron, allowed the recovery plans to continue.