PHOTO: Sunset over Puerto Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas. (Photo by Janeen Christoff)
At this month’s Gala Vallarta, news that Puerto Vallarta hit a tourism record in 2015 was spreading like wildfire. Tourism officials were on hand to discuss the destination’s positive growth and its projections for the future.
“Puerto Vallarta has officially recouped 100 percent of the business it lost between 2010 and 2012,” said Marc Murphy, managing director of the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are now on par with numbers from 2008.”
Tourism is the region’s bread and butter and has been for more than a century.
“We have been working and growing tourism for more than 100 years," said Miguel Andres Hernandez, director of the Puerto Vallarta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “More than 90 percent of the city’s population is involved in tourism.”
Which is why 2015’s impressive tourism numbers were such welcome news at Gala Vallarta. Nearly 1.8 million international visitors vacationed in Puerto Vallarta in 2015 and the numbers are expected to continue to grow in 2016. Overall hotel occupancy was at 65 percent and, in December, the region closed the year with occupancy rates of more than 90 percent.
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One of the ways in which Puerto Vallarta has been able to kickstart the flow of tourism back into the region is with airlift.
“Over the last few years, the number of international visitors flying to Vallarta has increased over the drive market,” said Murphy. “Half of our business is from national tourists – the drive market has been the majority of visitation. Now, with more gateways – even in Mexico – the visitor spend is up because the air traveler spends more in the destination.”
Air lift will continue to increase in 2016. Air Canada is starting a Puerto Vallarta flight. There is a new flight from Seattle on Southwest Airlines. Volaris is beginning flights to Puerto Vallarta from Oakland – big news because it is the first Mexican airline to offer direct U.S. to Puerto Vallarta flights since Mexicana went out of business. There is also a rumor that JetBlue is interested in flights to the area.
Working Together for Success
The tourism boards of Riviera Nayarit and Puerto Vallarta’s joint promotional activities maximized budgets and worked well to entice travelers to both destinations.
"Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit complemented each other well in the joint campaigns,” said Murphy. “Riviera Nayarit has a more modern theme and Puerto Vallarta has a local, Mexican flavor.”
In the coming year, a major focus will be normalizing pricing.
“The objective now is to project the area as a luxury destination,” said Murphy. “We want to get our room rates back up to where they were.”
Luxury Hotel Boom
In Riviera Nayarit, a new crop of upscale hotels is under development and will certainly go a long way toward transforming the region into a luxury hot spot.
W Hotels will debut in the area with the W Punta de Mita, scheduled to open on May 1. The property is part of the Los Veneros multi-use oceanfront enclave located 10 miles from the Puerto Vallarta International Airport. The hotel will have 120 guest villas and W’s signature Whatever/Whenever service. Other signature features include the WET outdoor pool deck, W Living Room and W Lounge. There is also a 4,00-square-foot AWAY Spa and FIT workout facility.
One&Only will open the One&Only Mandarina in 2017. The resort will feature 145 villas as well as private residential estates. Located on a cliff within a rainforest, expect dramatic views to be a main feature of this property.
Puerto Vallarta is also seeing a boom in high-end accommodation. The recent openings of Hotel Mousai and the much-anticipated Casa Kimberly, the former estate of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, have added cache to the city.
“We expect to open more properties like Hotel Mousai. There are three more high-end luxury properties coming this year,” said Alvaro Garciarce, president of the Puerto Vallarta Hotels Association.
Of the three new properties currently under development, only an AMResorts property has been confirmed. The company is planning a Zoetry Wellness & Spa Resort in the area, according to Garciarce.
Cruise Port Renovations
Puerto Vallarta’s cruise port was greatly affected when a number of cruise ships pulled out of the region due to safety concerns. But it is making a comeback. More than 130 cruise ship calls were made in the port in 2015 and that number is supposed to reach 149 in 2016.
The port will undergo a $20 million renovation over the next five years, according to Agustin Alvarez, general director of the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board. The makeover will include a new welcome center, an aquarium, a tequila center and a shopping area. The renovation will open in three phases. The welcome center and the tequila center will be completed in the first phase. The aquarium will follow and the third phase will include the shopping center. There will be no changes to the number of cruise ship berths at this time, said Alvarez.