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Top 10 Mexico travel headlines of 2016

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Mexico City’s futuristic new airport was announced in 2016.

Before we leap into the new year, it’s a good time to pause and remember the year that was. 

The trade site Travel Agent Central collected Mexico’s top 10 stories of 2016.  This top-10 global tourism destination saw no shortage of hotel openings, health warnings and culinary trends, among other developments. 

1. Spotlight on Mexico City

Mexico’s capital topped the New York Times’ list of 52 places to visit in 2016.  “… a cutting-edge hotel, design, culinary and architectural scene has transformed it into one of the world’s hippest places,” writes TAC.

Trendy Condesa, Roma, Juarez and Polanco maintained their superstar neighborhood status, and an astonishing futuristic international airport was announced.

chable resort
Chable Resort south of Mérida

2. New hotels

So many high-profile properties opened in 2016, but TAC highlights mainly Yucatán Peninsula resorts: Breathless Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa, Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, Ocean Riviera Paradise and Dreams Playa Mujeres Golf & Spa Resort.

And the “much-anticipated” Chable Resort, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, debuted southwest of Mérida.

Adults-only areas were trending big this year. A number of hotels renovated or expanded to introduce them.

And overwater bungalows at El Dorado Maroma on the Caribbean north of Tulum, grabbed the travel agents’ attention. Private infinity pools, glass bottom floors, and direct-ladder access to the ocean, as well as an overwater restaurant and overwater spa, 

3. Future hotels

The biggest headline in new-hotel announcements is the Sandals Resorts expansion into Mexico. So far, plans call for at least one new-build hotel on the Riviera Maya, north of Playa del Carmen.

Travel agents are eager to see new properties on the Riviera Maya: UNICO 20°87°, Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts and Garza Blanca Resort & Spa. The St. Regis Kanai Resort, Riviera Maya and W Kanai Retreat are scheduled to open in early 2018. Joining them in the new Kanai Resort area are properties by Auberge and Park Hyatt.

4. Adults-only destinations

Hotel rebranded and restructured, especially on the Riviera Maya. UNICO, an adults-only new hotel concept from AIC Hotel Group. Mexico’s largest operator, Grupo Posadas, introduced La Colección, freshening its beachy Fiesta Americana Resort Collection. Additionally, Original Resorts is now Original Group, specializing in adult-oriented concepts such as the clothing-optional Desire group.

occidental xcaret
Occidental Resort at Xcaret.

5. Eco-tourism on the rise

Mexico is a big part of a global trend toward eco-tourism. In fact, it’s an industry leader in some areas, according to Travel Agent Central. It’s home to Xcaret, the world’s first eco-park. which turned 25 in 2016. (Full disclosure: they are also an Yucatán Expat Life advertiser.) Hotel Xcaret will open on the Xcaret Park grounds in 2017. 

Once-sleepy Tulum long ago “lost its status as Mexico’s best-kept secret,” writes TAG. “In fact, TripAdvisor named it the number one destination on the rise for 2016. It remains a top choice for sustainable nature stays, albeit with a luxury twist. Recently introduced at the eco-chic Papaya Playa Project are handcrafted tree houses. Built at an eco-friendly workshop on site, the tree houses utilize locally-sourced materials and recycled wood.”

President Enrique Peña Nieto announced several new nature reserves, including the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere, covering the entire Mesoamerican Reef system. This protects turtle beaches in Quintana Roo and prohibits oil exploration in the Mexican Caribbean.

6. Rise in wellness travel

Indigenous practices and ancient Maya rituals have taken on a trendier status, from the perspective of the travel trade. “From expansive wellness programs to full-scale wellness resorts, Mexico held the spotlight this year,” writes Travel Agent Central.

A Temazcalero is the physical and spiritual guide who performs the Mayan temazal ritual in a steam hut. Photo: Spafinder

The Mayan practice of temazcal took the No. 3 spot on Spafinder Wellness 365’s annual Spa & Wellness Trends Report for 2016.

The ritual incorporates heat, steam, aromatics, chants and prayers under the auspices of a shaman. It’s a spa menu fixture throughout the Mayán Yucatan. 

The aforementioned Chable Resort and Spa outside Mérida is a prime example. Set on 750 acres of Mayan forest, the holistic wellness retreat’s focal point is a spa built beside an actual cenote.

David Sterling, standing, in white, presides over a cooking class that ends in a shared meal. Photo: Los Dos

7. Culinary tourism

Mexico City continued its ascent to the top of foodie wish lists in 2016.

But as extraordinary as the nation’s capital city is, Mérida won a Food & Travel reader’s poll in 2016 and 2015 as Mexico’s top culinary destination

A couple more annotations to the Travel Agent list:

Chef Rick Bayless’ TV series “Mexico, One Plate at a Time” devoted its entire season to Yucatán in 2016.

We would also add the untimely passing of David Sterling, a modern chronicler and educator of Yucatecan cuisine. 

8. A boost in air travel

A landmark Air Transport Agreement this year took effect in August, opening up aviation markets between the U.S. and Mexico. 

Interjet, Mexico’s second-largest air carrier, added flights to Mexico City from Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas. It will add four new routes from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta.

Ultra low-cost Mexican carrier Volaris began service from Mexico City to Houston.

After a regulatory snafu, Southwest Airlines offers new flights from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Los Cabos. 

American Airlines has launched service from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta and Cancun and between Miami and Mérida.

Delta has introduced daily nonstop service between JFK airport and Cancun and between Los Angeles and Los Cabos, as well as a Saturday Kansas City-Cancun flight.

9. A proactive response to Zika 

The mosquito-borne Zika virus surfaced in Mexico in early 2016. But quick thinking and regular updates from tourism officials helped avert a tourism crisis, reports Travel Agent Central. In February, a survey of more than 1,000 agents found the virus had little impact on Mexico travel.

By the fall, the World Health Organization declared that Zika was no longer a global health emergency. Common-sense precautions against mosquito bites are still recommended, however.

President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto walks along U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after a meeting at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016. Photo: Getty

10. Taking on Trump

Mexico was Donald J. Trump’s punching bag during his presidential campaign, and his whirlwind Aug. 31 meeting with Peña Nieto did little to alleviate the tension.

But Mexico’s tourism officials rose to the occasion. Secretary of Tourism Enrique de la Madrid Cordero held meetings in Las Vegas in the fall to discuss bilateral relations. 

And the number of U.S. visitors to Mexico has maintained its healthy growth rate. The tourism powerhouse of Cancun had its best year on record.

“And there’s little sign that travel to the destination will suffer once Trump takes office,” writes TAG. “Mexico, noted De La Madrid, wants to build bridges instead of walls.”

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