7 Questions with… Rodrigo Esponda, Los Cabos Tourism Board

LATTE chats with the bureaux chief spearheading tourism's revival in Baja California


This week LATTE chats exclusively with Rodrigo Esponda, Managing Director of Los Cabos Tourism Board.

Rodrigo has been Los Cabos Tourism Board for the past five years, steering the organisation through its most rapid period of international visitor growth and rapid expansion as an ultraluxury destination (where there are now 11 Virtuoso Preferred properties), to the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic.

He is now at the forefront of Los Cabos’ tourism rebound, with international visitor numbers for July 2021 surging nearly 25% on the corresponding period in 2020. And that’s more than 12 months after the tourism gateway threw out the welcome mat to overseas visitors with a phased reopening beginning in June last year.

In response to COVID-19, Los Cabos was designated as the world’s first Sharecare health security VERIFIED destination earlier this year. So how is business, and what does that actually mean?

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Rodrigo, what can we learn from Los Cabos Tourism Board’s success in responding to the coronavirus pandemic and what changes can Australian travel agents expect when we return?

A key lesson was communication both in and outside the destination. COVID-19 taught us that we need to deploy internal campaigns to the destination, for example educating on necessary COVID-19 safety protocols.

When we first planned to reopen the destination more than one year ago, we set up a local industry campaign called “Put a Smile On” which encouraged our tourism partners to achieve the same level of hospitality that we had before the crisis. Everyone was very concerned about how we could convey a warm welcome from behind face masks and shields. 

Rodrigo Esponda, Managing Director, Los Cabos Tourism Board

Our next evolution of that campaign is based on a Mexican expression similar to “Ignite”.  We’re encouraging partners to “get ignited” in terms of being vaccinated, following protocols, not having parties and following the rules. That required very strong community communication and coordination.

When Australians start coming back, they will appreciate the core elements of Los Cabos. The level of hospitality, the quality of the service that we provide, the effort the destination has put into making sure protocols and safety are at the highest level.

That’s what we aimed for when we reopened the destination. We wanted to position Los Cabos as the best option for Australians, looking to come to a destination that offers the beach, the desert, the mountains, and numerous outdoor activities we have. Even in the context of COVID-19.

How has Los Cabos’ tourism industry been affected by the pandemic, what have been the challenges and how did you approach solving those?

That collective vision and coordinating multiple stakeholders has been the biggest challenge. Los Cabos thrives on tourism and for months we lacked government support. The impact on the economy was significant and unemployment grew quickly. But, we’ve also seen the rapid improvements coming out of the pandemic.

In a destination as complex as this one, you have different authorities sharing responsibilities. For example the beaches. You need to follow a protocol on the beaches, you have some jurisdiction in terms of certain elements that are part of the municipality, and some others that are part of the state, and some others that are part of the federal government. It’s been really hard at all levels, but to see the tourism community come together has been nothing short of inspiring and speaks of the resilience and spirit of our destination.

What is the primary traveller demographic you are now seeing coming to Los Cabos, and how have you addressed their needs?

Traditionally we’ve seen a lot of Boomers and young professionals. People who can work remotely or who are combining a vacation and professional time – three days working, three days relaxing, or half-a-day exploring, or working in the morning and checking things out later in the day.

More recently however we have seen an increase in Generation X, and Millennials, and even Generation Z. They are also staying longer in the destination, spending more and doing contained activities and contained experiences. Instead of getting on a whale watching experience for 20 people they want a six-person tour because they are a group of six friends travelling, or couples, or a multi-generational family that are travelling together who want to have the experiences amongst themselves.

Similarly, we’ve seen significant growth in villa experiences. Families and friends that are renting a villa or suite in a hotel that want to have one special dinner on the beach and then another special dinner inside the villa. Plus they hire a lot of support services for these experiences which includes displaced entertainers who have migrated to provide private services. So that musician that was playing jazz in the club is now playing in a villa for a private party, earning more money, working less, and making a better living. So that’s been a win-win.

What travel trends do you think will rise to prominence as countries open their borders, and how is Los Cabos capitalising on these trends?

I think the trend of having safety as a priority will persist. Everyone wants to know that the place they are travelling is safe.

Longer trips. Everyone would like to, if they can, go for three or four months. Or take time off from what they have been doing. They really want to disconnect from what has been happening for so many months now.

We’ve seen this trend play out in destination through strong growth in regenerative, medical and wellness types of experiences. But that’s probably over-simplified. It’s not wholly wellness. People want to focus more deeply on meditation and yoga and eating healthy. They really want to regenerate. They want to have somebody that really talks to them about their mental health and having a special vitamin and nutrient-rich type of program customised for them – it’s a much deeper experience. 

Community involvement and sustainability awareness are also going to remain priorities. People want to know the communities involved receive the benefits of tourism are actively caring for the environment.

Los Cabos was the first ShareCare Health Security verified destination. Can you tell us about the process you went through to obtain that certification and what does that mean for travellers?

While ShareCare was already working with multiple destinations around the world, none had aligned their hotels to be collectively working together in order to be classed as a VERIFIED destination.

We worked very hard to achieve this distinction. Some hotels immediately jumped on board, especially those with very good implementation of protocols and excellent systems already in place.

Other family-owned properties required a face-to-face meeting with the owner, explaining the processes and helping them to understand the benefits. 

What are the new developments that Aussies can look forward to when they are finally able to return to Los Cabos?

In the past two years we have had fantastic new hotel additions like the Four Seasons Los Cabos at Costa Palmas and further developments in the East Cape including the opening of Aman’s spectacular new resort. We’re also creating new experiences geared towards sustainability and wellness.

The towns surrounding Los Cabos that are really worth visiting – Todos Santos and El Triunfo – a former mining town that has been completely renovated in the last few years with interesting things to visit, such as museums. Visitors will enjoy its original, authentic culture, spirit and soul, along with improvements in experiences and the facilities.

When Australians are able to travel again our itineraries are going to be based on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In your eyes, what are the top three experiences Los Cabos can provide an Australian traveller?

One of them is definitely the abundant nature in the ocean and in the Sea of Cortez. Home to more than 30% of marine mammals, you can find many different types of sharks, rays, whales and dolphins, all in the same area.

Secondly, the very complex geography. We have the Sierra de la Laguna (mountain range of the lagoon) that carries water deposits all the way up into the mountains. On some hiking experiences, travellers can learn about the rare and endemic flora found in this region. It’s simple to plan a trekking experience that combines the ocean, the desert, the mountains, as well as waterfalls and birdwatching.

And sport fishing. Even though people would think it’s not sustainable, it plays a very important conservation role because most of this is catch and release.

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