Last updated: 08:27 AM ET, Thu March 26 2015

Huatulco’s Tourism Assets: One-On-One With Pia Oberholzer

Destination & Tourism | Claudette Covey | March 25, 2015

Huatulco’s Tourism Assets: One-On-One With Pia Oberholzer

Over the last couple of years, Huatulco has been catching the attention of increasing numbers of travelers seeking out experiential, authentic vacation options. It’s easy to see why. Set on the coast of Oaxaca, this sustainable resort community incorporates 36 beaches stretching 22 miles across nine stunning bays. Huatulco was developed as a government-planned community in the 1980s and as such is a sister destination to Cancun, Los Cabos, Ixtapa and Loreto. We sat down with Pia Oberholzer, the longtime manager of the Huatulco Hotel Association, during Tianguis Turistico in Acapulco to discuss the destination’s tourism assets and plans for slow and measured tourism growth.

TravelPulse: Are your tourism numbers on the rise?

Pia Oberholzer: For the last two to three years Huatulco has seen increasing demand. We had some really difficult years before that. But demand has been growing steadily. We’ve seen new flights and frequencies, and our hotel occupancies are up by six to eight percent in the last two years.

TP: How measured an approach is Huatulco taking when it comes to tourism growth?

PO: Huatulco’s growth is very well protected precisely because FONATUR [the government tourism development agency] is involved. They have strict guidelines. For example, buildings cannot be higher than four stories.  More than 60 percent of Huatulco is natural reserve. Eventually only about 35 percent of the destination will be developed. It’s definitely low-density development.

TP: Is there any news in terms of hotel development?

PO: We know that RIU is already an owner of a really big piece of land, although they haven’t started to build yet. Hopefully they’ll start developing next year. Melia is currently negotiating to buy a piece of land in Huatulco.

TP: What does the landscape of hotels currently look like in Huatulco?

PO: Huatulco is a very small destination. The general population of the bay area is about 15,000 inhabitants. We only have about 3,500 hotel rooms – which is the same as one of those huge resorts in the Riviera Maya. Even the so-called big resorts here are not that big. We have a Barcelo and two AMResorts’ hotels: a Dreams and a Secrets.

We do have a couple of chain hotels but the majority are individually owned, and the ambiance is very Mexican

There are also a lot of mid-level, Mexican -style hotels. Some of them are EP and others are all inclusive. We have an extremely high repeat level of 40 percent from U.S. and Canada. Those are actually the favorites of repeat visitors to Huatulco. Usually first-time visitors come to the bigger resorts. When they realize the destination is safe, and they see the smaller hotels, they start booking longer stays at these less expensive properties. The more they know the destination, the longer they stay.

TP: What is Huatulco’s main market?

PO: Seventy-five percent of our visitors are from within Mexico, and 25 percent are mainly from the U.S. and Canada. In the winter months, between Christmas and Easter, it’s the other way around. It’s 75 percent international and 25 Mexican. For the rest of the year it’s mostly Mexican.

TP: Are you trying to boost your international business?

PO: Yes, but we like to have a nice mixture because of seasonality issues. Americans and Canadians prefer to come in the winter and the Mexicans prefer to travel in the summer.

We are also looking at Europe again, as Europeans also travel in summer. And since the destination hasn’t grown that much our winters are practically sold out. So we’re looking for summertime opportunities. We’re also looking at possibilities to increase business from the Los Angeles market, which also travels in the summer.

TP: What are Huatulco’s most notable tourism assets?

PO: The most important thing is that Huatulco is a certified sustainable tourism destination with EarthCheck platinum certification. Ninety percent of Huatulco’s energy is generated from windmills and 10 percent from water.

We have Blue Flag certified beaches and Huatulco National Park with 29,000 protected acres. We also have a garbage separation program in place, which is not very usual in Mexico, as well as water treatment plants in each and every one of the bays. It’s so clean.

Huatulco is a very safe and very laid back, with beautiful beaches and many tours and activities. There are boat tours to several of Huatulco’s bays. Right behind us are the Sierra Madre Mountains with coffee plantations, waterfalls and small mountain communities. There’s river rafting and kayaking, and mountain bike tours. We also have an eco-archeological park near Huatulco.

And very nearby we have Mazunte and Puerto Escondido. Mazunte is a very ecologically oriented little town and home to the Mexican Turtle Center. Puerto Escondido is an amazing surfing destination. Mazunte is about an hour from Huatulco and Puerto Escondido about two hours.

Visiting Huatulco is like going on vacation to a small Mexican town.

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