For three days in October Hurricane Wilma sat astride Cancun, Mexico, dumping rain, tearing at its beautiful white sand beaches, and damaging over 80 percent of its hotel room inventory. 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 Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula pales with that suffered by New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, 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 had scheduled its 2006 annual meeting for 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 from Wilma.” In the meantime, 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 to rebuild the infrastructure along Kukulkan Boulevard, along which lies most of Cancun’s major hotels and resorts.
In addition, the CVB reports that the Convention Center is fully operational, restaurants are reopening, and that many of the area’ golf courses will 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 there is little business to be had right now because most of the hotels and resorts with conventions and meeting services are closed. Groups that have cancelled bookings have been either unable to rebook because of date conflicts, or hesitate 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. The 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.
“I have a group that is supposed to stay at a large resort and they are thinking of changing their program because they are concerned the area won’t be viable that soon,” Bustamente says. “But, the authorities, the hoteliers, and all the suppliers are working very hard, and very quickly, in order to get Cancun ready.”