Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cancun Ravaged, Storm of Weddings Hits Cabo

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cancun Ravaged, Storm of Weddings Hits Cabo

Article excerpt

Ever since hurricane Wilma thrashed Cancun three weeks ago, the most frazzled, flustered, frantic people in tranquil Cabo San Lucas have surely been the wedding planners.

With Mexico's premier resort still recuperating from the Category 4 storm, tens of thousands of winter sun- seekers are being forced to change their plans. Among those are the many brides and grooms who are now flocking to sunny Cabo to say "I do."

"People spend a year planning - and then have to redo everything in a week or two, so the pressure is on," explains Veronica Miranda, a wedding planner for Cabo's largest resort, the Riu hotel.

"I always start by saying, 'Take a deep breath. It's going to be OK.... I have a great florist,' " says Ms. Miranda who, after two weddings on Monday, one Tuesday, and three Wednesday, by Thursday didn't know if she was headed to a gazebo ceremony or an English garden reception.

Cabo's wedding planners, like the city's travel agents, airlines, hotels, time shares, restaurants, and taxis are rallying to absorb the demand created by the cancellations and closures on the other side of the country. "Cancun's misfortune," says Ruben Cota, promotions coordinator at Cabo's municipal tourism office, "...is an opportunity here."

"It's been a crazy few months," admits Vari Avila, of Baja Weddings. "First we were working with couples whose weddings in New Orleans were canceled, and now we are being bombarded with inquiries from Cancun and Cozumel." Two weeks ago, she says, they put together a wedding for 138 guests with a week's notice. "The hardest part," she says, "is getting the hotel rooms."

Cancun's Hotel Association says it expects 50 percent of its 27,000 hotel rooms to be open by Christmas and 90 percent by next summer. As of today, only about 12 percent are inhabitable.

The Cancun beaches, largely stripped of their white sand, are being recreated with sand dredged from the ocean floor, but they too, are not expected to be fully restored for months. Many tour operators have postponed or moved to change their clients' schedules.

Cabo and other Mexican alternative beach destinations, meanwhile, are overflowing. The Cabo Presidente InterContinental was 45 percent booked before Wilma hit, says Ana Ramirez, the hotel's sales manager. Today, it is 85 to 100 percent booked through January. Their Cancun properties aren't expected to open till March.

And the Riu, with 642 rooms, is filled to capacity with nearly 1,300 guests, says sales director Domingo Aznar. Two of Riu's three Cancun hotels reopened this month, but still, many tourists, hearing of the miles of fallen palm trees, the closed discos, the paucity of public transport, and low mood there, don't want to go.

Before hurricane Wilma, Cancun was Mexico's most-visited tourist destination, with 3 million visitors a year, compared to Cabo's 1. …

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