FOR THREE DAYS in October, Hurricane Wilma sat astride Cancun, Mexico, dumping rain, tearing at its beautiful white sand beaches, and damaging more than 80 percent of its hotel rooms. As of November 4, just 5,200 rooms out of an inventory of close to 28,000 were in operation. The Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau is estimating that about half the area's rooms will be open by December 15, with another 5,000 open by January 15.
While the devastation on the Yucatan Peninsula pales beside Hurricane Katrina's destruction in New Orleans, Cancun has still suffered a big blow, particularly as it heads into its high season. One industry group that has pulled its meeting out of Cancun is the Association of Destination Management Executives, which was scheduled to hold its 2006 annual meeting February 2 to 5 at the Hilton Cancun Beach and Golf Resort. The association has decided to wait until 2007 for its Cancun meeting in order to “give the area a chance to completely recover.” ADME has relocated its 2006 meeting to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The good news, according to Artemio Santos Santos, executive director of the Cancun CVB, is that the Mexican government is contributing $20 million toward beach restoration, and another $10 million to rebuild the infrastructure along Kukulkan Boulevard, along which lie most of Cancun's major hotels and resorts. In addition, the CVB reports that the convention center is fully operational, restaurants are reopening, and, as of press time, many area golf courses were expected to be back in operation by the end of November.Local travel agencies and DMCs are also open for business.
The problem, says Claudia Bustamente, sales manager, Cancun for Maritur, is that little business is to be had right now; most of the hotels and resorts with meeting services are closed. Groups that have canceled bookings have been either unable to rebook because of date conflicts, or hesitant because of concerns over whether Cancun will be ready for business in the coming months.
While some major hotels appear to have recovered fairly quickly — Le Meridien was scheduled to reopen November 16 — other hotels and resorts will take longer to rebound. Moon Palace Resort, for example, will not reopen until December 20, while the Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort wasn't even planning to announce a reopening date until early this month. In the meantime, Hilton has waived cancellation penalties for groups and individuals through February 28.