'We are the safest state in Mexico. We have two UNESCO World Heritage Sites [the Historic Fortified Town of Campeche and the Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul], beaches, ecotourism, golf courses and Mayan ruins very close to the capital,' said Alejandro Manzanilla, director general of API Campeche, the state's ports authority.
Manzanilla and tourism officials are in South Florida this week meeting with cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Crystal, among others. This follows their talks with US and European operators during Seatrade Cruise Global last month.
The port of Seybaplaya, about 18 miles/29 kilometers south of the capital, Campeche, is capable of handling smaller cruise ships (maximum draft: 20 feet/six meters) and has hosted a few, including Le Levant. Feasibility studies are under way to determine whether to dredge Seybaplaya to take larger vessels or to develop a remote landing platform about 12 miles/20 kilometers offshore where ships could land passengers to be transported ashore by large tenders.
The feasibility studies are expected to be completed by the end of this year and work could begin in 2018.
During his meetings with the cruise lines, Manzanilla is presenting the projects and getting feedback.
Tourism, one of Campeche's main economic drivers, has become even more vital since revenues from the energy sector have declined due to lower oil prices.
Seybaplaya is in line to be designated a special economic zone by the federal government, which would provide funding for a cruise project, and the state will chip in, too, Manzanilla said.
Claudius Docekal, vp deployment for Crystal, said new ports, properly executed, are always welcome. He visited Campeche many years ago and found the old town and fortress 'impressive, a kind of Cartagena, Colombia.'
The challenge for Campeche, in Docekal's view, is that it is 'out there on its own, some 151 nautical miles or so southwest of Progreso and not on a logical route to/from any other port.' To get to there, a ship would have to sail out of its way and then back, burning fuel.
Docekal noted Progreso provides access to the lovely colonial city of Mérida and is closer to the well-known Mayan sites of Chichen Itza and Uxmal than Campeche. However, another important site, Edzna, is close to Campeche and appears to be worth the 90-minute or so bus ride in each direction, he added. It's also likely less crowded, Docekal said, so able to provide a more pleasant experience.
Plus, day-tour charter flights from Campeche to Palenque, another key but hard-to-reach site, may be possible.
'Since impressive and other well-known Mayan sites can be reached from Progreso, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, Campeche would be wise to offer more varied shore excursion options in the city and the region in order to attract cruise ship calls,' Docekal suggested. Creating experiences similar to those offered in Cartagena, plus nature experiences, local encounters and water/beach-related offerings would be appealing, too, since those are a must for many travelers visiting the Caribbean.
Manzanilla is confident Campeche can deliver.
'We have a lot to offer,' he said. '[Campeche is] a unique destination that cruise ships should know. The tourism industry is developing a lot in Campeche and getting ready to receive these tourists.
'We're sure this will be a great destination.'