Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Investors and the government plan to spend more than one billion U.S. dollars over the next few years in the hopes of returning crime-ridden Acapulco to its former glory as an “international jet-set” resort that once attracted the likes of John F. Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor.
Today, Acapulco’s reputation and quality of life are drowning beneath a wave of crime tied to narcotics and drug trafficking.
The resort, located some 234 miles south of Mexico City on the country’s Pacific coast, is part of the State of Guerrero which suffers the highest homicide and kidnapping rates in the country, according to the Mexican watchdog group National Citizens’ Observatory.
The State Department already prohibits U.S. government personnel from traveling to Acapulco and Guerrero, and rampant crime, including illegal roadblocks by criminal gangs, prompted the Canadian government to warn its citizens against all non-essential travel to Guerrero this year.
If Mexican authorities can’t control the crime in Acapulco, efforts to revitalize the resort will “fall short,” said Mexican tourism expert Gerardo Herrera, a professor and investigator at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City.
The hotel occupancy rate in Acapulco is between 75-80 percent during the high season, down from 90-95 percent in past years, he said.
Students from the U.S. celebrating “spring break” stopped going to Acapulco years ago, Herrera said, adding that rising crime has also reduced the number of Mexican visitors.
The price of resuscitating the once-iconic glittering resort on Acapulco Bay is expected to reach $1 billion in private investment alone, and includes plans for new hotels, a medical center for foreigners looking for lower-cost care, a new airport terminal and a two-mile long tunnel from the international airport to the beaches on the bay.
“Our goal is to return Acapulco to be the international jet set’s preferred destination,” national tourism secretary Enrique de la Madrid said in a press conference last month describing the ambitious plans.
“To resolve [Acapulco’s] social and security problems,” he said, “we have to make it a high-class tourism destination that will permit an improvement in the quality of life of its citizens.”
Almost $30 million is being spent to build a new terminal at Acapulco’s Juan N. Alvarez international airport, and the owner of the Pierre Mundo Imperial and Princess Mundo Imperial hotels in Acapulco will pour $1 billion into the resort city, de la Madrid said.
The funds will be used to renovate the Pierre Mundo and Princess Mundo hotels, and build another 6,000 hotel rooms in Acapulco as well as golf courses, and a hospital for medical tourism, according to Jorge Miranda, director of marketing at Mundo Imperial.
Miranda confirmed that Grupo Autofin, Mundo Imperial’s parent company, owns 16 square miles of undeveloped land in Acapulco.
“We have so much undeveloped land in Acapulco,” Sayed Rezvani, Mundo Imperial’s general director told Travel Weekly last month.
The publication also reported that another Mexican hotel investment group Posadas Group plans to invest $85 million to build two new hotels in Acapulco.
The state of Guerrero will spend some $213 million on the construction of the new tunnel along the route from the airport to the beach zone, according to a report by World Highways.
A two-hour trip by car from the airport to the beaches – when traffic is at its worst – will be cut to just a few minutes, the report said.
When finished, the tunnel will be longest in Mexico and will allow for a second parallel tunnel to be built in the future if needed, it added.
The plans to return Acapulco to its former glory days come in the midst of a nationwide tourism boom. More than 5.6 million foreigners chose to visit Mexico during the first quarter of this year alone, according to the federal tourism authority.
The majority, 3.4 million, were from the U.S., a 14.7 percent increase over the same period a year ago, the authority said.
International cruise lines, including Norwegian Cruise Lines, still make stops in Acapulco despite the resort’s declining reputation.
But other popular resorts, including Puerto Vallarta and the Caribbean island of Cozumel attract many more.
Cozumel will “edge out Nassau as the world’s leading cruise destination this year, with 3.39 million passenger arrivals, almost one million more than the 2.51 million in 2011,” the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association told CNSNews.com earlier this year.
“And Mexico overall has gone from a five-year low in 2013 of 4.25 million to expecting 6.12 million passengers this year, representing a 44 percent increase,” the association’s president Michele M. Paige said.