Mazatlán is a Mexican success story for the second time. After being American travelers’ top Mexican destination for decades, just a few short years ago the city found its tourism slowing down and its fortunes declining because of a combination of factors, from the recession in 2008 to consumer concerns over narco-corruption. But recent major investments in infrastructure and services, plus an overhaul of the police force and improved security, have turned this “Pearl of the Pacific” around: Mazatlán is a prime development opportunity once again.
Mazatlán’s 12 miles of beautiful beaches, excellent shrimp and other seafood and restored colonial old town have always made this coastal port a draw for sun seekers, cruise ship passengers and holiday makers; millions visit every year. The 13-mile Malecón is one of the longest boardwalks in the world, and the colorful buildings in the old town, such as the restored Teatro Ángela Peralta and the 19th-century Plaza Machado, are beautiful reminders of days gone by. “The flavor of downtown historic Mazatlán makes it a high-quality destination,” says Ricardo Montaudon, president and CEO of RCI Latin America. “Plus, you have all the advantages of modern upscale resorts, with golf, deep-sea fishing, marinas and more.”
Mazatlán shook off its doldrums with the aid of sustained investment from the local, state and federal governments, in addition to sizable private investments, and was further helped along by the arrival of a new government and administration in the state of Sinaloa. “Since 2013 we’ve invested more than 50 million pesos in downtown, 26 million pesos along the Malecón, plus four million in the Golden Zone [of resorts],” says Francisco Cordova Celaya, secretary of tourism for Sinaloa since 2012.
And the strategy is working. At its lowest point, in 2010, Mazatlán received only four cruise ships during the entire year. For the 2015–2016 season, the city is expecting 103 dockings, by Carnival, Holland America, Princess and Norwegian cruise lines, which equals nearly half a million visitors, and has already confirmed 127 dockings for next season. In July 2015 the average occupancy rate for three-, four- and five-star hotels was 87 percent, and the amount of money spent per stay has increased 18 percent overall. The air lift is increasing too; American Airlines recently launched a direct flight from Los Angeles. US Airways, Delta, Alaska Airlines and others are increasing the number of flights and are sending bigger planes: This season they started four weeks earlier than last season and will end later.
The brand-new Durango–Mazatlán highway, which has 115 bridges and 60 tunnels, is a feat of modern engineering that cut the drive time from Durango from eight hours to three. This has really opened up northern Mexico and is drawing visitors from Chihuahua, Zacatecas and Saltillo. In 2013 there were 1.7 million domestic visitors to Mazatlán, and the city anticipates having more than 2.2 million domestic visitors in the future. “It has been tremendous,” Secretary Cordova says of the highway. “We started promoting Mazatlán in northern Mexico before it was finished to take advantage of the boom.”
This boom translates into more rooms needed for visitors—not only those from abroad but the new domestic visitors as well. Currently Mazatlán has 12,000 rooms in 180 hotels, but 5,000 more are required to meet the demand during peak periods, when occupancy is already at 100 percent. Plus, hotels and resorts have to adapt to a new type of visitor. “The highway helped current players who were previously looking at the North American market to look at the domestic market as well,” Montaudon says. “A Mexican family may travel with five to eight people, plus need room for vehicles and parking, so that changes the criteria for the building.”
A number of new hotels are in the pipeline, including Holiday Inn and Pacific Sands, and Fiesta Americana and Camino Real are reported to be looking to enter the market. Approximately 15 hotel brands have construction permits, including five Mexican hotels, seven United States hotels and two Spanish hotels. Overall, Mazatlán is set to see an increase of 4,500 rooms by 2022.
Mazatlán is becoming a true top-tier destination, known as much for its cultural and culinary attractions as for its sun, sea and sand. It’s also a destination that inspires repeat visits. Of visitors polled over the past summer, 36 percent had been there more than five times, and 19 percent between three and five times. “We have slightly more American owners than Mexican,” Montaudon says. “The foreign market loves it here.”
RCI’s first affiliate in Mazatlán was established in 1980, and the city now has about 25 affiliated resorts. The resorts are responding to the influx of visitors by investing money in renovations, expansions and new builds. RCI affiliate El Cid Resorts has four resorts in Mazatlán, including the recently renovated El Cid Marina Beach hotel, in the Golden Zone; El Cid has the largest marina in the area, a private beach and several azure-blue swimming pools. “We have been working for the past two years on all the properties in Mazatlán,” Carlos Berdegué, president and CEO, says. “El Cid Marina Beach has been 100 percent renovated, including all rooms and public areas, plus the restaurants. At El Moro, 100 percent of the public areas have been redone, including the lobbies, pools, elevators and restaurants, and 70 percent of the rooms are completed. We are seeing more growth in international visitors as well as domestic, and the future looks very bright.”
Mazatlán’s government is also pursuing foreign investors and international chains that can bring in five-star resorts and mixed-use developments. The state government reports that it needs five-star properties because they offer first-world infrastructure, which is the most requested type. “Mazatlán is at the lower end of the market but has incredible luxury properties and services,” Montaudon says. “The big landowners and developers are now creating mixed-use properties with resorts, condos, fractional and timeshares, where owners have access to all the luxury hotel services.”
The push now is to get the word out about Mazatlán and all it has to offer. “It’s a beautiful place to visit, the safest port on the Pacific coast, with great food, and it’s economical,” Secretary Cordova says. “Folks didn’t stop vacationing; they just changed their preferences. So we just remind people how much they loved it.”