Mexico’s state of Yucatan, says Michelle Fridman, the state’s Minister of Tourism, “is in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula. We have millions of years of history; we have the Mayan history, which is alive in Yucatan; we have millenary gastronomy; we have millenary architecture; we have colonial cities; we have amazing beaches—almost 250 miles of pristine beaches…it’s a different and unique destination.”
The state, which will be hosting this year’s in-person Tianguis Turistico, has been a best-kept secret for many, especially when compared to its neighbor, Quintana Roo, but Fridman and her team want U.S. travel advisors to know what a gem is awaiting them in Yucatan. “Once they discover Yucatan, they’ll fall in love,” she says, “and so will their clients.”
We took some time recently to speak with Fridman about Yucatan’s growth, its tourism updates and what makes the destination so very unique.
Recommend: What can travelers heading to Yucatan expect?
Michelle Fridman (MF): The destination is following all the protocols necessary to keep everyone safe as we’ve taken the health of our citizens and visitors very seriously. The hotels, restaurants, airports, transportation, archaeological sites, Mayan communities, guides all use the same certification, allowing us to keep the same standards of safety throughout all of the experiences. Everything is open—hotels, restaurants, the beaches, the marina, the archaeological sites—with some measures and restrictions in place because of COVID.
We do need to be conscious that we are still in this crisis; this crisis hasn’t finished. It’s going to take a long time to recover. I’m always saying that this is sort of an endurance race—to reach 2019 visitor numbers is going to take a while, but we are on our way.
We are back to pre-COVID international air connectivity, and that includes new flights from Dallas [American Airlines] and Oakland [Volaris].
Recommend: Cruising is back in the destination this month (July). Tell us a little bit about what cruisers can expect in the port city of Progreso.
MF: We are very excited—we’ve been waiting for the cruises to arrive in the port city of Progreso for more than a year. We know that the cruise lines want to go back to Yucatan because of all of the amazing experiences we have to offer. In the last two years, our port city of Progreso has changed dramatically—we have made a lot of infrastructure changes and added new products, so it’s more beautiful that ever. We have two new boardwalks, we have a lot of new tours, new restaurants, new hotels coming.
Recommend: Do you think Yucatan is now going to be of more interest to travelers and travel advisors?
MF: Yes, and you know why? Because after this huge crisis that we’ve been going through, I believe the priorities have changed. Humans are aiming to connect with real experiences, authentic experiences, and Yucatan has those types of experiences. Yucatan is a sustainable destination, with a lot of diversity, with a lot of authentic people. You can go to Yucatan and you’ll see a completely different destination, where people dress differently, people eat differently, people have their own traditions. We have very unique places, for example, the Pink Lakes. I don’t know that there’s any other place quite like it—it’s full of flamingos and it’s right next to the blue water of the ocean. That’s the sort of thing you’ll find in Yucatan. So, if people are looking for unique and authentic experiences as well as open spaces that allow them to reconnect with life, then Yucatan is the place.
Recommend: What about hotel infrastructure?
MF: A lot of new hotels have opened. We now have over 14,000 rooms in Yucatan. We have quite a nice infrastructure—we have boutique hotels, hotels within historic haciendas. The experience and hospitality are very authentic.
Recommend: What about the area’s famous gastronomy?
MF: Our gastronomy is an amazing portrayal of our history because our gastronomy blends Mayan ingredients and techniques, European ingredients and techniques and Mexican ingredients and techniques. Our cuisine uses ingredients that are only from Yucatan, for example the chile habanero, the achiote…and there are famous dishes that are from Yucatan, for example, the cochinita pibil.
Recommend: How are you growing tourism to Yucatan?
MF: We have a new campaign—The Colors of Yucatan. Merida, Yucatan’s capital city, might be known as the White City, but we want to change that perception because Yucatan is so colorful. There’s no place more colorful in Mexico than Yucatan. There are the Pink Lakes; the red of the achiote; the yellow of Izamal, a Magical Town painted in yellow; the blue of the sea and the cenotes; the green of the jungle…it’s very colorful.”
Recommend: Who should travel advisors be targeting when recommending Yucatan?
MF: We have something for everyone. We have a lot of luxury, we have romance—a lot of weddings take place in the haciendas—we have the beach, we have culture, colonial cities, the gastronomy. There is a lot of product for families, for couples, for romance. There’s also adventure and nature throughout the Mayan Villages and the jungle.
In fact, to illustrate how many things there are to do, we launched a local campaign, 365 Days in Yucatan, where we challenged ourselves to find one daily activity to do in Yucatan. We are on day #79—there are so many things to do in Yucatan. You can go to a local business to see how they gather the Yucatecan honey, which is one of the best in the world; you can ride a bike through a Mayan road; you can go to a colonial city; you can ride an ATV; you can zipline.
Recommend: Are you surprised at the many activities?
MF: When I first arrived, because I’m not originally from Yucatan, I conducted a study and realized that there are three false perceptions of Yucatan. First, there’s nothing to do—there’s so much to do; second, it is unbelievably warm—yes, it’s warm, but not warmer than Miami or any other warm place; and third, it’s very far away—it’s not farther than Cancun. So, we realized that the locals had kept their destination for themselves; somehow they missed the opportunity to communicate that message to outsiders. So, we have been perfecting the product that we already have—now it’s more accessible.
Recommend: What about in terms of sustainability?
MF: Sustainability has been our main goal since day one. Everything we do, every project, every promotion has the goal of sustainability. Within the industry, we put it aside as important, but not urgent and I would say that COVID-19 showed us what was really important. Fortunately, Yucatan had already worked on sustainability and many of the things that we worked on before COVID gave us the opportunity to be more competitive because we have the product right in this community. We have an amazing product called the Mayan Villages—they can offer authentic experiences to the visitor, and visitors can bring income to these communities. We take sustainability very seriously—the environment, but also the preservation of the traditions and the history.
Recommend: What are the must-sees travel advisors should keep top of mind?
MF: You can visit our website yucatan.travel, where you can see the regions, itineraries and the 365 Days campaign. But visitors shouldn’t miss Yucatan’s four Magical Towns or Merida; they should visit one of the haciendas, which have been converted into museums, hotels, restaurants; they should visit the beaches and the Pink Lakes; swim in a cenote; and visit the archaeological sites—beyond Chichen Itza, there are plenty of others, including Uxmal.”
For more information, visit yucatan.travel.