We are now in the 3rd of the three tourism seasons we have here in Costa Maya/Mahahual. We have “high season”, which is November thru April, “low season”, which is July and August, when school is out here in Mexico, and then we have “no season”. Actually, we have 2 no season periods, May and June, as well as September and October. That is when nothing except cruise ships come in. Hotels are empty, we’re dodging storms in hurricane season, and the locals are broke with the slow down in tourism and the costs of getting kids back to school. All this ultimately means “no season” in Mahahual. Nothing going on except fixing all the junk that rusted up this past year, a long list, so it is a good time to take a look at this years upcoming high season, and from my bar stool, it looks a little better than last year, which also was just a little better than the year prior. Baby steps!
However, baby steps is not how I would really say our summer cruise ship schedule went. Since our return from Hurricane Dean almost 9 years ago, our summers schedule has been just two ships a month. That ship was a non-revenue producer for the town too, as it was last stop for a Port Canaveral Carnival that left at 1:00 in the afternoon and was full of sun burned and broke vacationers. Yea, no money there for anyone. Basically, no ships in the summer.
This summer however, we did 10 to 12 ships a month and all were really good, large ships. Even that Port Canaveral ship changed its itinerary to make us 1st stop, and now the town makes money off that ship. First and mid-week stop ships are the very best money makers for the local economy. So are large ships and the ones added this summer were just that.
NCL added us to the Getaway as next to last stop, one of their new top end series ships, and Royal Caribbean and Princess also brought in 4000+ mid-week ships this summer. Just the fact that those lines left ships here for the summer, I assumed was a good indicator of what they would be doing this high season. Seems I was correct.
This year’s schedule has almost the same number of ships, but the ships are larger and even the ships from the smaller lines are larger. Last year we had several boutique type ships, less than 600 passengers, included in our schedule that made the numbers look better. Big ships have crews larger than those, so the economic impact of these small ships is very small.
This year, the smaller liners are still coming, but their ships do seem to be larger. Holland America has always brought the smaller 1500 passenger ships, like the Wyndham, where this year they are bringing the 2300 passenger Oosterdam. And there are now AIDA and MSC ships with 2500 capacities coming, as well as Phoenix Reisen Lines that will now be bringing 1500 passengers a week, all from Havana Cuba. Another exciting addition to our regional home port cities, and one that will bring lots of European visitors to the community.
The big difference this year however is the large number of big liners coming from new home ports. The largest increase this year is with Royal Caribbean, who in addition to adding both the Oasis and the Allure, the two sister ships that are the largest in the world, are adding new ships out of New York, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa to go with the ones they had brought us from Miami last year. Look for the Anthem, out of New York, the Freedom and Independence out of Ft Lauderdale and the Rapsody out of Tampa this year. Some of the ships are on irregular schedules, but given the number we have, it seems RCCL is probably going to move more ships here for regular schedules after they try it out of different home ports.
With the New Royal Caribbean ships comes the bonus of Celebrity Cruise Lines bringing ships again. The Eclipse out of Miami and the Summit out Ft Lauderdale are both now coming this year, both 2500-3000 passengers. And Carnival is adding, to the old Port Canaveral route, a Galveston ship, the Breeze, and have moved the Dream to New Orleans, giving my Texas friends more options. Even Disney is bringing a ship this year, the Wonder, for a couple visits, also from Galveston.
We still have the smaller boutique lines like Oceana, Armonia, Silver Sea, Regent and Chrystal, as well as irregular visits from large ships from Thompson and Costa, as part of their trans-Atlantic trips. That is a good way to end your European vacation; a cruise home instead of the long boring plane flight. Hmmmm?
All in all, the 2016-17 high season for cruise ships seems a little better than last year as it sits now. We usually add ships as the season goes, usually after the first of the year it seems, when ships like to move contracts that are problems. Ports will increase a tax for example, or add new contracts of their own, making it so that existing ships might have to tender instead of port, any number of things, but for many reasons we always pick up ships after the first of the year. If we do, the increase will make what already looks like a really good year, into a great one for the local community.
As for hotels, most are expecting highest occupancy rates ever this year. I’m not sure all will be able to say that, but our better and more established hotels, for sure, will be full, or near full all season. These are the hotels that have been providing good service for many years now and have a very loyal base of return customers. This base, along with the normal growth of the hotel business from better transportation and such to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, has all our small established hotels will need to fill this year. I would book early if I were you.
The summer hotel business seemed as big as I’ve seen here. Hotels were at much higher occupancy than in past years and that was due mainly to new flights coming from Mexico city each day this year. Two lines flew in a couple times a day this summer, so the area hotels were not full all summer, but did enjoy a good year and much better than last year by far.
We still have six weeks of no season and dodging hurricanes here before high season, the bad part of living in paradise. But looking ahead a little, especially when it looks as promising as our season looks this year, is not a bad way to keep us all motivated through no season. We’ll, that and tequila!