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A new type of luxury traveler is heading to Mexico, one that doesn’t care about the stuffy indulgences once associated with high-end travel. Instead, this new breed of luxury visitor has a different set of values. They’re interested in getting out of the resort to engage with and understand the local culture, they crave opportunities to enjoy creative culinary experiences featuring world-class food and drink, and they want opportunities to connect with nature and beautiful scenery.
Of all the destinations hoping to appeal to this new mindset, few are as well-positioned as Los Cabos. Thanks to its new destination campaign, “The Baja Way,” and a strong community of local tourism entrepreneurs, Los Cabos is quickly emerging as the next hot spot for luxury travel. But what does the future of luxury tourism look like in Los Cabos? Skift spoke with three local tourism business owners to learn more about how they are helping pioneer a new model for upscale travel in Mexico.
At the Nexus of Art, Design and Local Culture
Art and design are an increasingly important feature for luxury travelers. According to a 2019 Skift interview with Hong Kong-based architect Andre Fu, today’s luxury traveler is looking to interact with the local creative community when they travel. “Among high-end travelers, they’re looking for a point of view. They’re looking for more curated experiences. People want to journey through an experience and an environment,” said Fu.
This urge is translating into a growing focus on art and design among luxury travelers, who are seeking out art galleries and local cultural experiences in the destinations they select for their vacations.
In Los Cabos, a growing collection of local and expat artists, along with a thriving gallery scene and local support for the arts, is helping position the destination as an emerging center for art and design lovers. And according to local tourism leaders, this isn’t a new development either. In fact, the Los Cabos community has a longstanding association with the creative community, which has helped to foster its growth.
“I was talking with some of my friends from my childhood, and what we always said about La Paz is that we had an art scene that we didn’t notice,” said Patricia Mendoza, owner of a contemporary art gallery and organizer of the popular Art Walk in San José del Cabo. “Your mother would take you to ballet lessons or guitar lessons…we were always walking through the streets and you would hear someone playing the piano.”
As Mendoza notes, the type of traveler coming to Los Cabos is increasingly interested in experiencing the region’s burgeoning art scene. “The people that come to San Jose are more interested in art, definitely. It’s a different type of tourism. The visitors are more relaxed, they enjoy architecture, good restaurants and the quiet town,” said Mendoza. “It’s not completely silent, but they definitely come for the art.”
The Los Cabos art scene has continued to grow since then, expanding into new areas like interactive classes and art walks, adding yet another amenity for luxury visitors. “I used to have one gallery. Now I have two, and I have exhibitions in the different resorts,” said Mendoza. “We’re even giving lessons of painting, and this year we’re going to add sculpture.”
Celebrating the Bounty of Baja Through Its Food and Drink
Many visitors to Mexico already associate the country with tequila and tacos, but today’s luxury traveler wants to go deeper. Instead, they’re looking to experience more local flavors, explore its one-of-a-kind ingredients, and understand how the food is connected with the history, environment, and culture. The sentiment matches with an overall interest in food tourism worldwide: Skift Research reported that U.S. travelers spent $58 billion on food and drink in 2017, representing a 5.8 percent annual growth rate since 2012.
The Los Cabos food scene is evolving in parallel with this growing interest in cuisine among luxury travelers. Today, the destination plays host to an increasingly sophisticated collection of farm-to-table restaurants, craft cocktail bars, and sustainable food producers. Best of all, the area’s forward-thinking bartenders and chefs place a special importance on showcasing the heritage and ingredients of the Baja California Sur Peninsula in their recipes.
Many of the chefs who grew up in the Baja region have noticed a dramatic shift in how today’s traveler thinks of the Los Cabos food scene. “When you’d hear about Los Cabo before, you used to think of spring break and parties. And now it’s changing a lot – people come to eat,” said Javier Plascencia, a Baja-based chef who owns half a dozen restaurants in the region, and has helped raise the profile of Baja cuisine in popular culture.
Adding to the appeal for luxury visitors is the fact that the Los Cabos dining scene is aimed first and foremost at local Mexicans, not travelers, adding to the feeling of authenticity. “My restaurants target the locals first,” said Plascencia, “That’s why tourists love them, because you have a feeling that’s where locals go.”
The unique geography of Los Cabos, situated in a warm climate at the southern portion of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, is a further benefit; the locale gives local chefs and bartenders access to an extended growing season and a mouthwatering range of sustainable ingredients. Given the area’s proximity to the ocean, seafood is a big focus for many local chefs. “The seafood in Baja offers us a huge diversity of ingredients like scallops and fish,” said Osvaldo Vazquez, a local mixologist, food and beverage consultant, and ambassador for the region’s culinary offerings.
As Vasquez notes, this sense of Baja “terroir” also extends to the high quality of local produce, which he uses to inspire his cocktail concepts. “One of the beautiful things about Los Cabos is the soil is organic. So you can harvest whatever you want. We brought in [produce] like finger limes and the Buddha’s Hand, all these exotic types of limes. Also, the habanero chile comes from the Yucatan [Peninsula]. It’s possible to harvest them all here.”
Between the fertile soils, bountiful seafood, and discerning palates of local diners, Los Cabos is helping to push the Mexican dining scene forward, encouraging a new type of culinary collaboration and creativity. “Before it was just the chefs. But now the bartenders are working together with the chefs on the plate and the menu,” said Vazquez.
Los Cabos is emerging as a hotspot for a new generation of luxury travelers. As this new type of visitor seeks out new amenities and experiences from their luxury trips, they’re redefining the destination playbook for the Mexican travel industry. What’s emerging is a number of priorities: an interest in more authentic cultural experiences, a desire to enjoy sophisticated, locally inspired food and drink, a love of the outdoors, and an appreciation for cutting edge art and architecture. Each of these interests is helping make “The Baja Way,” the defining mindset for luxury travel.