Friday, October 30, 2009

Huge Savings on Mexico Cruises - Lock In The Lowest Prices on Mexico Cruises

Reeling Mexico hopes travel deals bring back the tourists
USA Today

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico — During a visit to San Diego in April, Pratik and Priti Chavda thought they'd slip over the border into Tijuana just to do a little shopping, have a quick meal and say they had made it to Mexico. But upon hearing the plan, staffers at their hotel sounded the alarm.

"Swine flu! Drug cartels! Don't go!" Pratik Chavda, 32, recalls them warning of his Mexico cruises.

Six months later, the Chicago couple have finally made it south of the border, where they're enjoying a meal of grilled shrimp with a panoramic view of a golden sunset. And they didn't even have to wait for a table.

What started out as a gangbuster year, with international tourist arrivals up about 6% in the first quarter, came to a screeching halt in late April when Mexico became the first to report an outbreak of the H1N1 virus. The flu scare, coupled with news accounts of gruesome drug-related violence, caused visitors to stay away in droves. From April to June, tourist arrivals plummeted by more than 19% over the previous year.

Discounts are also recession-driven

Now, flu furor has quelled somewhat. The State Department lifted its virus-related travel alert in May, by which time Mexican officials were being lauded for their efforts to contain the outbreak. The drug wars still rage, but they've always been primarily confined to select areas, far from where mainstream tourists tread. (However, the State Department in August updated a travel alert advising Americans to avoid unnecessary travel to the states of Chihuahua and Michoacan.)

At this point, many believe, it's the lingering global recession that may be casting the greatest pall over Mexico's desires for a robust winter tourist season. In Cancun, the nation's No. 1 vacation destination, arrivals are down 12% over last October.

Travel wholesalers "are telling us we're in the same (booking) range as the rest of the Caribbean," says Jesus Almaguer, head of Cancun's Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Of course, we'd love to be better, but given the situation, it's not that bad."

Maybe not. But with a hotel building spree in many sun-drenched spots, competition among Mexican resorts has heated up. And that's likely to spark more rate reductions and value-added cheap Mexico cruises in the coming season.

"There are some really good deals out there," says Laura Del Rosso, the Mexico contributing editor for the trade publication Travel Weekly. "Even last year, they were worried about overcapacity because of the number of big resorts that opened. This year, it's the economy that's the bigger issue."

From the small office of her 11-unit Casa Andrea in Puerto Vallarta's historic "Romantic Zone," Andrea Edelstein directs employees preparing to reopen the hotel after a four-month shutdown. Her guests are mostly loyal regulars who come for weeks at a time. Not this year. Occupancy dropped to 40% in April, and by June she decided to temporarily close.

"It's not even that people are looking for discount Mexico cruises," she says. "They're just not coming."

At Barcelona, a popular tapas restaurant, business appears relatively brisk.

"I'm not as busy as people think," says owner Bill Carballo, whose business dropped by about a third over the summer. "Everyone is suffering."

And along popular Playa de Los Muertos — Beach of the Dead — Pablo Celestino, wearing the patient demeanor of a man who has been trudging these sands for 21 years hawking jewelry to tourists, shrugs and says: "Business is quiet. But times have been worse. Maybe next month, people will come."

Beach resorts massage their prices

As in other beach resorts, early fall is typically slow in Puerto Vallarta. But after April's flu alert, cruise ship calls were suspended. Flights were cut back by 20%. And local officials ramped up marketing efforts (and discounts) aimed at domestic tourists.

Now, even with cruise ships returning to short Mexico cruises and more international tourists trickling in, "I think you're going to see a lot of creative packaging," says Dennis Whitelaw, general manager of the CasaMagna Marriott and president of the local CVB, which has issued a first-time discount booklet.

Local purveyors are offering their own incentives. A small beachfront hotel spa in the city's Old Town offers $23 50-minute massages — down from $35. Nearby, a lunch of freshly grilled fish and a cold beer at seaside stands goes for less than $4.

Tourists to other Mexican beach resorts report similar deals. Tyler Daugherty, 27, of Las Vegas, on two bargain-priced back-to-back Mexican cruises, has enjoyed a $54 3½-hour massage and salt scrub in one port of call and a $2 snorkeling trip in another. Now he's careening over the jungle and rappelling over waterfalls on a zip-line tour. (His cost for the six-hour outing: $93 vs. $140 if he had booked it on the ship.)

"The second I heard about swine flu in Mexico, I booked the cruises. I knew the flu (scare) would be something stupid, and the cruises would be cheap," he says.

'Wonderful and safe and comfortable'

But perceptions die hard. Americans' often-shaky grasp of geography, coupled with long memories for bad news, could prolong Mexico's tourism slump. When Amy Weirick, an Ohio publicist for Experience Columbus, announced plans to attend a professional meeting in Guadalajara earlier this month, she had to quell her family's fears.

"My son was frightened, and my husband was even a little paranoid," she says. "But I found Mexico to be wonderful and safe and comfortable. I had a terrific trip."

Meanwhile, Puerto Vallarta, which possesses an artistic soul and a culinary heart not found in many beach resorts, is banking on events such as the International Gourmet Festival (Nov. 12-22) and the Puerto Vallarta Film Festival (Dec. 2-6) to draw visitors from beyond the mainstream.

Its historic center, hugged on one side by the sweeping palm-fringed Banderas Bay and the verdant bulk of the Sierra Madre Mountains on the other, retains a truly local ambience that might be less apparent in more lucrative times when it's crawling with foreign tourists.

In the main plaza, a folkloric dance troupe has ample space to practice. Across the way on the malecon, or seaside promenade, a mostly Mexican crowd gathers to cheer on comic buskers. Vendors circulate, hawking cups of egg custard, paper sacks of oily potato chips and drinks ladled from gourds.

Some locals say they'd welcome this less crowded, more relaxed time, if it weren't at such a cost.

"We've been hard hit by the swine flu propaganda and the narco-trafficker rumors," says Liv Boughn, 35, a transplanted Californian. "But we have paradise to ourselves. That's the irony of it. If it weren't affecting the economy, I'd love it."