Mazatlan, Mexico making up for cruise losses with new air service

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  • Walks on the malecon in Mazatlan bring a heady combo of sea and sculptures. Walks on the malecon in Mazatlan bring a heady combo of sea and sculptures.
  • Waiting for the opera. Arts are alive in Downtown Mazatlan. Waiting for the opera. Arts are alive in Downtown Mazatlan.

LOS ANGELES, CA, January 22, 2012 – If you are heading to Mazatlan, Mexico, don’t expect to float there. Rather, you can seek out the new lift it is getting these days from a U.S. airline company that just popped up on the airline rosters, Cal Jet/Xtra Airways began flying from five feeder markets to Mazatlan this month with a rate and convenience factor that is fast getting the attention of snowbirds. 

Mazatlan, the international port of call on Mexico’s Pacific coast, is making waves to get out from under some undeserved bad press and show the world not only is the city safe for tourism, it can pack a lot of value for visitors with the food, beach, shopping, adventure and pampering options to be considered. 

The added lift is hoped to make up for the lacuna in cruise passenger activity the city has weathered since 2011, when five major cruise companies stopped calling on the port town due to reports of violence caused by local drug cartels and perceived safety lapses. Princess Cruise Lines, however, has resumed some Mazatlan stops, and city officials have been in talks with Holland America and other lines to restart service. Some local tour operator companies reported drops of 80 percent in business following the loss of the cruise line calls. Hotels have been limping along with middling occupancies and have turned their marketing attentions toward other countries and attracting Mexican nationals on holiday. 

The new airline makes non-stop flights twice weekly from Los Angeles (Thursday/Sunday); Denver (Thursday/Sunday); San Francisco/Oakland (Friday/Monday); Houston (Friday/Monday); and San Antonio (Tuesday/Wednesday). Flights are on 150-passenger Boeing 737s with three rows for first class. Hot meals are served aboard the 2+ hour flights. The airline offers an option for upgrade at the counter for $100 each way. 

Launch rates are $199 roundtrip plus tax through January ($218 from San Francisco), increasing in February to $399 roundtrip from all gateways through April 9, when the airline is expected to renew its contracts. 

As reported in Travel-Intel, Mazatlan government and tourism officials have chimed into the effort with a commitment of some $10 million for investment in tourism. 

The Mazatlan Hotel Association in conjunction with the state government created a strategic partnership in October, following research that showed Mazatlan needed more air seats to keep up with growing demand from the U.S. and Canada. During the month of December, U.S. and Canada based airlines reported high passenger load factors to Mazatlan, all reaching air seat capacity over 75%: U.S. Airways (94.67 percent); Alaska Airlines (91.26 percent); Sun Wing Airlines (90.52 percent); WestJet (89.54 percent); and American Eagle (75.24 percent.

But Mazatlan has not been sleeping while cruise passengers passed it by. Its top luxury resort beach property, Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, is going ahead with plans to add hundreds of rooms and complete a designer golf course project. Other tourism products – from zip-line adventures, whale watching explorations, tequila tasting events, colonial tourist town destinations, culinary tours and art walks have been shoring up their presentations and creating a pleasing and packed menu of possibilities for visitors. The city puts on a major party for Carnival in February, a six-day tradition that dates back to 1898 and is said to be one of the largest Carnival festivals in Latin America. 

“We’re expecting a strong rise again as a result of these promotions and hope to get things back to 2010 levels,” says Monica Coppel who represents Go Mazatlan, the state’s official tourism board. Another factor expected to make a difference in these efforts will be the opening of the Durango Highway later this year. The new road will connect the Atlantic on the to the Pacific and cut travel time between Durango and Mazatlan down to two hours from eight. The corridor will provide an alternative to the treacherous Devil’s Backbone – a series of hairpin turns traversing the Sierra Madre. 

Meanwhile, a massive effort to rebuild and preserve downtown Mazatlan is underway, including the UNESCO refurbishment of the Teatro Angela Peralta, the exquisite opera house with a sad story, built in 1874. Similarly, the town’s narrow, cobbled corridors of former colonial grandeur are now populated with tony restaurants and bistros laid out Venice style surrounding a car-less park square. Nearby, hear the bells of the imposing churrigueresque cathedral built around the same time by Jewish “converso” architects who embedded stars of David in the window formations. Then there is the ambling downtown marketplace that is morphing into a glossy, focused food showcase for the town’s culinary traditions. 

Leading up to the downtown area is a very walkable malecon, an ocean walk that has been cleaned and widened and populated with wild art sculptures. For exercise buffs the 13-mile long malecon is the longest in Mexico and believed to be the longest in the world.

The city’s official website, GoMazatlan.com, offers a booking engine for hotels, but Cal Jet and other airline companies work with Funjet and Pleasant Holidays, among others, to make Mazatlan an easy one-call vacation venture. 


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Lark Gould

 

Lark Ellen Gould is an award-winning journalist who has spent the last few decades reporting on news, trends and nuances in the travel industry for top travel publications with a focus on Las Vegas, California, Africa, Asia, Pacific and the Middle East.
As a veteran news reporter covering hot spots (and cool spots) around the world, Lark knows where to go – and where not to go. Follow her findings in the Communities Digital News, LLC at The Washington Times where she is an associate editor for Food & Travel; also Larkslist and Travel-Intel, a weekly news publication that goes out to the travel industry.

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