The director of the Tourism Board very much wants to clear up a lingering – and negative – Puerto Vallarta safety misconceptions about the destination.
“There is no travel warning to Puerto Vallarta,” said Agustin Alvarez. “The U.S. State Department’s travel warning as it pertains to the state of Jalisco highlights rural highways and areas that border states to the south, which are almost 250 miles from Puerto Vallarta – or the distance between New York and Boston or Los Angeles and Las Vegas.”
No one, of course, disputes that the city fell victim to a violent incident last month. “On May 1, there was an isolated incident that took place in the early morning, but authorities in the city moved fast and most people in Puerto Vallarta that day did not even know of the incident,” said Alvarez said. “Hotel occupancy for the weekend of May 1 was more than 95 percent, and according to the Hotel Association of Puerto Vallarta there were over 4,200 convention delegates in town attending international medical conferences.”
He said the travel warning has yet to impact Puerto Vallarta in any discernible way. “Business has been operating as normal so far,” he said. “No hotel cancellations have been reported.”
While three cruise line canceled port calls at Puerto Vallarta as result of the disturbances, the destination’s tourism officials were able to ease cruise executive’s concerns during a meeting last month. “There was an issue with communications between the destination and the cruise lines,” Alvarez said. “That has been fixed and we are working on ensuring the cruise lines know the real status of the destination.”
Moving forward, Alvarez said Puerto Vallarta is negotiating with cruise lines to increase calls during the 2015-2016 season.
Business from cruise line continues to grow, said Alvarez, and Puerto Vallarta is projecting a 16 percent increase in scheduled ship calls over 2014.
Overall, business this year has been strong. “Visitor arrivals to Puerto Vallarta are up by almost 200,000,” he said. “The destination has received 860,886 visitors in the first five months of the year. In 2014 we received 669,138 visitors for that period.”
Hotel occupancies are also up from 2014. “Puerto Vallarta has had occupancies of 73 percent for the first five months of the year, which is a three percent increase from last year,” he said.
The destination is also continuing to add to its eclectic portfolio of properties. “The Hotel Mousai is our latest opening and our first 5 AAA Diamond property, and we are very excited about that,” Alvarez said, adding that the Grand Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta is scheduled to debut this year as well.
On the airline front, Alvarez said Southwest Airlines will launch daily nonstop flights between California’s John Wayne Airport in Orange County (SNA) and Puerto Vallarta’s international airport on June 18. Pending government approval, the carrier will also introduce service between Denver and Puerto Vallarta on Nov. 15.
Additionally, Aeromexico recently inaugurated a number of new flights from Boston, Toronto, Montreal and San Francisco, Alvarez said.
The destination is continuing to target a variety of markets, one of the most notable being LGBT travelers, a segment it has long supported.
In Alvarez’s view, the destination is a natural fit for LGBT travelers. “Puerto Vallarta is an international destination because of the service and friendliness of the local community,” he said. “Walking its center, people feel comfortable, safe, and in Mexico.”
Furthermore, he noted the LGBT community has, for all intents and purposes, become a part of the destination’s cultural fabric. “The LGBT community is welcomed and an integral part of our city because our Zona Romantica, our ‘gayborhood,’ grew with the rest of the destination to be what it is today: a Mexican pueblo with the latest in infrastructure,” he said. “We have partnered with many organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association and the Treatment Action Group to proactively show our appreciation for this natural market for our destination.”
Puerto Vallarta has its sights set on a variety of other markets as well. “This year we are proactively targeting the family travel market, the romance market, boomers and foodies – all markets that are natural to Puerto Vallarta because of all the offering the destinations has for them,” he said.
The destination also continues to work closely with travel agents. “We work with them constantly and try to maintain active communications with them via our newsletters, events and presentations,” Alvarez said, adding that the tourism board’s promotions team works closely with its tour operator partners and consortia to help educate agents through training sessions and at conferences and roadshows.
In the final analysis, Alvarez contends that agents play an important role in Puerto Vallarta’s continuing success as a tourism destination. “Travel agents are extremely important to Puerto Vallarta as they are our link to millions of current and future visitors,” he said.