Canadians are being advised to stay home this summer to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Any Canadian who travels internationally is subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival, which has played a big role in keeping people home.
Still, several Canadian airlines have resumed their flights to some of the most popular sun destinations and there are some who are ready to travel once more.
Air Canada is currently flying from Montreal to Cancun on Saturdays for the months of July and August, and from Toronto to Cancun on Fridays and Sundays for the months of July and August.
TWIL Travel's Lori Gold is a Canadian travel advisor who lives in Puerto Aventuras, a coastal community in Quintana Roo, Mexico, that is located in between Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
This month she visited several properties that have reopened in Mexico, getting a first-hand look at how things have changed regarding the overall all-inclusive experience.
Gold conducted site inspections at UNICO 20°N 87°W - Riviera Maya, which opened June 8th; the five-star adults-only El Dorado Maroma; the four-star all-inclusive Catalonia Playa Maroma; the five-star all-inclusive Hotel Xcaret; The Fives Oceanfront - Puerto Morelos, which just opened this month; The Fives Beach Hotel & Residences in Playa del Carmen and Grand Velas Riviera Maya.
As it stands, Mexico is still in the Orange phase of reopening as per the "traffic light system" implemented by the tourism board, which was extended until July 12th.
Under these rules, hotels, restaurants, historical sites, golf courses, and tourism services, are only allowed to operate at a 30 per cent capacity. Bars, beaches, and public parks remain closed.
Here's what Gold had to say about her property visits:
UNICO 20°N 87°W - Riviera Maya
Gold visited UNICO 20°N 87°W from June 19th until June 22nd.
"This was my eighth time visiting the property," Gold said. "You would never know it was only a quarter full, because it was bustling. It was a sense of normalcy and everyone was having a good time. If this was your first time here, you would never notice the difference."
UNICO 20°N 87°W - Riviera Maya is a five-star all-inclusive, which takes the meaning of that inclusivity beyond it's buffet. Spa treatments, for one, are unlimited, as is dining a la carte, which has since replaced the buffet.
Guests who stay at the property can still take full advantage of the spa and beauty salon. However, appointments will be limited and scheduled with enough time in between to disinfect areas accordingly. Staff will wear appropriate PPE at all times, and cabins will be fully equipped with soap, hand-sanitizing gel, and cleaning supplies.
The fitness centre is also open at a limited capacity. Equipment and machines will be disinfected according to high standards of sanitation between each use.
Signage along with disinfectant wipes will be placed to remind guests to sanitize their station after and before each use. Some machines will be removed from the fitness centre in order to create appropriate physical distance between each guest.
The following observations were also made at UNICO 20°N 87°W:
- The Tankah Mayan Community excursion, as well as most of the other excursions offered at UNICO 20º87º are temporarily unavailable. However, due to the fluidity of the situation this may change at any time.
- Cooking classes are currently unavailable. However, guests are still able to participate in limited capacity mixology classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Guests can reference the UNICO 20º87º app for the latest activities schedule.
- Guests are not required to wear face masks in common areas as social distancing guidelines are strictly enforced, but, masks are readily available for those who wish to do so.
- Swim-up bars, pool bars and Palmera Lounge are currently closed.
- Pool and beach chairs will be cleaned between every use, and spaced out to ensure appropriate physical distancing. Towel kiosks are now self service.
Pool chlorine levels will be safely elevated within a permitted range, but pool activities will be temporarily suspended.
"During my stay, I noticed that the majority of guests were Mexican, and the rest seemed to be from the U.S., but I did see one guy wearing a Toronto Blue Jays shirt, so maybe more Canadians are on the way!" Gold said.
El Dorado Maroma
El Dorado Maroma is an intimate, boutique resort.
Gold visited the property on June 17th, when the property was operating at 25 per cent of its allocated 30 per cent capacity.
The following changes were noticeable:
- Temperatures are taken upon arrival at the resort.
- All of the glass drinking cups in the rooms were wrapped in plastic.
- The buffet is currently closed.
- Guests were not wearing masks, though staff were.
"During our site inspection, we were shown one of the rooms, and we ate lunch at the restaurant," Gold said. "I think that was the first time we’d been out at a restaurant since this all started, but this felt very normal; all of the servers were wearing masks, and tables are spaced out to allow for social distancing."
Catalonia Playa Maroma
Gold said Catalonia Playa Maroma was only at six per cent occupancy when she visited the property on June 17th.
"I usually don’t sell four-star resorts, but I was impressed," Gold said. "It was clean, and there was lots of nature, like monkeys and other wild animals, and their beach is gorgeous. There were even a few people enjoying the pool, which was open."
During her site inspection, Gold had the opportunity to have lunch at the property, which has currently removed its buffet in favour of an à la carte style service. Menus have been removed in favour of QR codes via an app on your phone, Gold said.
Catalonia Playa Maroma is approximately a five-minute drive from El Dorado Maroma, Gold noted.
"It was my first time visiting the property, so I'm not sure if it's very different now from how things were before COVID-19," Gold said. "One of the things I did notice in the room, is that the resort is no longer allowed to keep the throw pillows on the bed, so that decor has been removed. The drinking glasses were also wrapped in plastic."
Touring Hotel Xcaret on June 24th, Gold noted that the property was handing out masks to guests, but visitors were not required to wear them.
"I've been to this property three, maybe four times, and as far as I can tell, this is the only property who has kept their buffet open," Gold noted. "Select restaurants are also closed, but the buffet is open, but with assisted service—guests may still walk around and select food items, but the staff serve you."
Video courtesy of Lori Gold:
Gold says the majority of Xcaret's restaurants plan to reopen by July. However, parts of the hotel remain closed, as well as some of the amenities, like its parks.
"Right now, only Xcaret Park is open," Gold told PAX. "They plan to open Xplor, Xenses, Xel Ha and Xoximilco early July, but there's no timing on when Xplor Fuego or Xavage will reopen."
"My advice to fellow agents is to keep on top of which parks are opening, because staying at Xcaret includes unlimited access to the parks," Gold told PAX. "It’s the main selling point. I would also confirm which days the parks are open, because those times are more limited thnn what they used to. I also recommend making reservations for the park in advance, because there are limits on the amount of people who can come in."
The Fives Oceanfront
The Fives Oceanfront is the brand's latest addition in Mexico, complementing its existing luxury boutique properties The Fives Downtown, just off of Fifth Avenue, and The Fives Beach, formerly The Fives Azul Beach Resort.
The resort officially opens on July 17th, 2020.
Walking into The Fives Oceanfront on June 24th, Gold says the first thing she noticed was the immediate sanitization measures in place.
"You walk through a sanitizer machine when you check in, and they take your temperature," Gold said.
While all resort staff are required to wear PPE, masks for guests are not mandatory, However, face masks, gloves and disinfectant are available for guests to use during their time at the property, and they will be encouraged to wear face masks anytime they are out of their rooms and in shared spaces.
Restaurant dining will continue to be available, but the resort has eliminated all food displays and buffets.
Room service is still available, but the menu is now focused on classic favourites and comfort foods.
The Fives Beach Hotel & Residences, Playa del Carmen
There's still a lot of variety across the resort's restaurants, Gold confirmed.
Two restaurants remain open for breakfast with an a la carte menu. The buffet has been removed. For lunch, Oriola (beachfront restaurant) is open, as is Sea Olive.
One restaurant also remains open for dinner, but each night, the menu rotates to showcase the menu at the other restaurants.
Video courtesy of Lori Gold:
"Every other night they also have either their Thai restaurant or their sushi restaurant open, as well as one of two bars open every night," Gold said.
In the rooms, one of the things clients will notice is the additional use of plastic.
"The rooms are pretty much the same, but the bathrobes are covered in plastic to show that they are clean, and they put a sanitization kit in the rooms with sanitizer and wipes," Gold said. "There are also plastic shields set up at the check-in counters, and you have to have your temperature taken when you arrive."
Despite the new health policies and procedures in place, Gold says it's business as usual.
"The staff are very happy to be here and the resort is bustling—as much as it can be at around 25 per cent occupancy!" Gold said.
The pools are open for use, as one can see from Gold's video below.
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
On June 29th, Gold also conducted a brief site inspection at Grand Velas Riviera Maya , which normally operates with three different sections: two on the beach, and one amidst the surrounding jungle.
Social distancing measures were evident across the property, Gold noted, including in the restaurants, where certain tables were blocked off to maintain a safe distance for dining patrons.
"One major thing to note is that one of the beach sections, which was previously adults-only, is now welcoming families," Gold said. "They've condensed the whole resort into one section. If someone had booked that, they wouldn’t be getting an adults-only anymore."
Gold also noted that those who had previously booked a garden section would now be placed in an Oceanfront suite with a private pool.
"There's definitely a flipside: your clients can be happy or unhappy," Gold said. "Just let them know what they're getting into before they go. Agents should find out as much detail as possible from the resorts and other agents ahead of time."
Current state of tourism to Mexico
As of July 6th, Mexico remains in the orange light phase of its traffic light reopening system.
"Phase 2 (the orange stage) got extended through July 12th and soon, they’ll announce if it’s extended again, or if we can move into the yellow stage," Gold explained.
"Officials are doing what they think is right based on the numbers," Gold said. "A lot of people are upset that beaches aren’t open right now, and to some, that doesn't make sense. This area survives and thrives on tourism; they need it and they want it. The locals need the money to survive."
"At the same time," Gold continued, "you want to do it in a safe and responsible way. The reopening operates on a traffic light system, and right now we're in the orange stage which has been extended to July 12th. From there, then we find out if we’re in the yellow, which would allow a few more businesses to reopen."
All of Mexico's beaches remain closed, with the exception of beaches attached to resorts, which are open, but only for guests staying there.
"It's frustrating for the people who live here, because they want to be able to go to the beach and enjoy the summer, too," Gold said.
Off of the resorts, life is slowly opening up again, with restaurants open for dine-in and takeaway. Grocery stores are also open, with social distancing measures in place.
"In Playa del Carmen, a lot of restaurants are open but many are still closed," Gold said. "They're also redoing Fifth Avenue, so a large portion is still under construction. Other parts of the strip are open, but in terms of things outside the resort, the ruins at Chichén Itzá and Tulum are still closed. Cenotes are starting to reopen, though, and people can go and visit them."
While the Mexican government still has yet to make the call as to whether or not the country will enter the Yellow phase on July 12th, Gold says tourism is picking up as more businesses reopen.
"I think that for better or for worse, Mexico is still one of the simplest destinations to sell right now because there's no quarantine requirement," Gold said. "Entry requirements keep changing in other Caribbean countries, but Mexico has kept their protocols. Mexico has never been closed to tourism throughout this whole pandemic."
The main thing to remember, Gold stressed, is being transparent with your clients about what to expect, and that means constantly checking in with resort management, or even fellow agents or destination experts to find out the "full story."
"These experiences at the resorts ranged from “everything was normal” to 'everything was different'," Gold said. "A first-time client might not notice, but a repeat client would. It's in your best interest to dig deep and let people know what to expect. If people are paying full price on older bookings, or even if it's a last-minute booking, people deserve to know what to expect."
To follow along with Lori as she conducts more site inspections in Mexico, check out her Facebook page!
To contact Lori personally, travel advisors may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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