Plus One: A Year After Hurricane Odile, Los Cabos’ Tourism Outlook is Sunny
No one who met Odile is ever likely to forget her.
One of the strongest storms ever to hit the Baja California peninsula–and the strongest ever measured in the satellite era–Hurricane Odile made landfall in Los Cabos on the evening of September 14, 2014, with winds howling at sustained speeds of up to 200 mph.
When she left the next morning, September 15, cape cities Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, and indeed much of Baja California Sur, were devastated: a disaster zone. Walking through Cabo San Lucas that morning was like walking through the ruins of a bombed out city. Roofs had been ripped off, windows blown out, cars flipped over, mature palm trees snapped in half like popsicle sticks. The streets were filled with an unmoving traffic snarl of dirty water and warped detritus.
San José del Cabo, as it turned out, was much worse.
Although few lives were lost, thankfully, the property damage was immense. Innumerable houses were lost. Total damages ran to more than a billion dollars U.S., with local hotels alone accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars. And the infrastructure was a shambles. Ninety-five percent of Baja Sur residents are said to have lost power, and I have yet to meet anyone in the other 5 percent.
It was in fact, the most crippling blow to the infrastructure of transmission and distribution of electricity in the history of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE): which is to say, México. Over 530 transmission towers and 1,350 transformers were knocked out, and nearly 8,000 telephone poles.
That morning, Monday, September 15, was the low point; but also the start of an inspiring story of recovery.
By Wednesday, military and aid were arriving, and coordinated efforts with civil organizations, business owners and federal officials were underway to get Los Cabos not only back on its feet again, but ready for business. The president himself visited four times, assessing the situation from the air, and from ground-level.
By the end of that week, more than 29,000 vacationers had been evacuated, and shelters–164, in total–had been opened throughout the five municipalities of Baja California Sur to help provide food and shelter for displaced residents.
Less than a month after Odile, on October 8, Los Cabos International Airport reopened, and the first tourists began trickling back in. Visitors on the first flight to arrive were serenaded by grateful airport employees. The tourist season, which traditionally stretches from the beginning of October through the end of May, was not going to be lost.
That was the immediate recovery timeline, and in retrospect, it was a remarkable achievement: a testament to the spirit of cabeños (Los Cabos residents), and the hard work, most notably, of military personnel and CFE workers.
But now, one year after Odile, it seems appropriate to look at the long-term recovery, and the tourism forecast for Los Cabos moving forward.
Spoiler alert: It’s sunny.
An enormous effort has been made to promote Los Cabos in the wake of Odile, with more than 10 million U.S. invested in hopes of luring visitors old and new. The recovery of the region has been a priority for the local and national tourism boards, and their advertising-heavy strategy has been an unqualified success. Amazingly, 2015 is on pace to be a record year, with more than 1.8 million tourists.
Nearly all affected hotels have reopened, and many took advantage of the downtime to renovate and significantly upgrade their existing accommodations and amenities. The few who haven’t opened will do so soon: Casa del Mar, El Ganzo, Dreams and ME Cabo later this year, Melia Cabo Real and The Westin Resort & Spa by summer of 2016.
The biggest hotel news this year, however, may be the influx of new properties expected to open in the next three years. Four thousand more rooms will be available by 2017 (bringing the total available in Los Cabos to approximately 18,000), many courtesy of notable brands like Solaz, Le Blanc, Montage, Vievage, Hard Rock and Nobu.
Los Cabos isn’t just back to normal, it’s growing.
This fact is reflected in the many new airline routes established this year: Southwest is now bringing visitors to the area from Baltimore and Houston, Delta from San Diego and Seattle, United from Washington D.C., Alaska from Orange County, AirTrans and WestJet from Toronto, and Volaris from Culiacán.
Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (GAP), which manages Los Cabos International Airport, invested heavily to help spur this marked increase–flights are up 10.7 percent in 2015–and now serves 41 destinations across the United States, Canada, and México.
This growth is expected to continue in the coming years, promising a rosy outlook for residents. It’s a welcome and wholly remarkable reverse, given that one year ago today things looked very, very bad.
Take that, Odile.