NEARLY A YEAR after one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record ravaged Mexico’s number one tourist destination, Cancun is reinventing itself. “In addition to improved airport facilities, returning guests will also witness that Cancun’s resorts, attractions and beaches have experienced a great deal of change since Hurricane Wilma last year, thanks to a destination-wide commitment to revitalize the area,” says Artemio Santos, executive director of the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau.
More than just a popular vacation spot, Cancun generates a significant source of income for the country as a whole. According to the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau, approximately three million tourists visit Cancun each year accounting for 30% of all tourism dollars spent in Mexico. When hurricane Wilma blew through the Yucatan peninsula on October 21, 2005, the damage to Cancun’s hotels, restaurants, and beaches was immeasurable. Ranked a category 5, Wilma battered Cancun for more than 24 hours with top winds estimated at 145 mph.
The slow-moving hurricane decimated Cancun’s top attraction, its beautiful shoreline with miles of soft sand. What was once a boulevard of powder-white sand, was reduced to a thin strip of beach in some locations and to no beach in others. To fix the famous beach, the Mexican government hired Jan De Nul, a global leader in dredging, stone placement, filling and salvage services, to reclaim the sand that was swept out to sea.
On February 1, Jan De Nul embarked upon a massive dredging project they finished in record-time only two months later. Working around the clock, workers dredged sand from 22 miles offshore and delivered it through a pipe for distribution on Cancun’s shoreline. The project cost $21.5 million to complete and gave Cancun an even wider beach than before Wilma.
In addition to beach improvements, the city is using this opportunity to upgrade its infrastructure and add new attractions, condos, and restaurants. Many of the hotels have been rebuilt with additional first-class services. The airport, which ranks second to Mexico City as the country’s busiest airport, is expanding and upgrading to accommodate more tourists at a higher level. “A lot of what was done was trying to make [Cancun] a more luxurious destination,” says Claire Kunzman a representative for the Cancun Tourism bureau. Upgraded services, and increased high-end hotels are designed to appeal to a more upscale visitor.
The city of Cancun has launched a massive public relations campaign—which included a $77,000 two-page advertisement in the official 2006 World Cup guide—to convince people to come back to Cancun. According to the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau’s most recent statistics, 700,937 tourists visited Cancun from January to April of 2006. Although that number is less than the 1,277,847 tourists who visited Cancun in the same time period last year, the public appears to be welcoming the new Cancun.
Recently the leading online travel company Orbitz ranked Cancun as the third most popular destination in the world for the summer of 2006. “We expect that both new and returning visitors alike will be excited to see the brand-new Cancún and all that the island now has to offer,” Santos says.
Published in Americas magazine by Chris Hardman