Travel & Outdoors | May 2008
|Business is Down, But the Office is Still Paradise|
Ed Zieralski - San Diego Union-Tribune
go to original
It's been almost 30 years since John Ireland ventured to what for him and many Americans was a new and wondrous land. He remembers spending his first night on Baja's East Cape, sleeping on a stone porch carved into an abandoned resort that he bought and restored.
|For more information on Rancho Leonero, visit RanchoLeonero.com or call (800) 646-2252, (800) 334-2252 or (760) 438-2905.|
When he awakened that first morning to the tropical air and the golden sunrise over the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez, he knew he'd struck gold. The sea was filled with biting marlin, tuna, dorado and roosterfish; the beaches were loaded with places to roam. The well water was magical, cool and safe to drink.
Since then, Ireland's Rancho Leonero Resort has survived Category 1 hurricanes, overfishing by commercial operations, Mexican politics and economic woes in the United States that have hurt tourism in the past and threaten it again today.
Ireland's timing nearly 30 years ago couldn't have been better. Americans were looking for a new adventure, and Baja was all of that and more.
But this is 2008. As bad as the attacks of 9/11 cut deeply into Americans' trips to Baja and many other places in 2001, Ireland sees recent events affecting Baja tourism even more. The collapse of the U.S. housing market, the fallout from the subprime lending crisis and the increase of violence in Mexico are taking a toll on Baja tourism.
In light of the drug-related violence in Mexico, Ireland said he and his staff find themselves answering many questions about safety. He said he answers honestly, saying East Cape doesn't have any history of drug-related violence and that he feels it's safe enough for him and his family to live there six months of the year. His neighbors include PGA golfer Nick Price and former Chargers great Lance Alworth, both avid anglers who built custom homes next to Rancho Leonero.
“It's a crisis of confidence for Mexico, but they can't control these guys,” Ireland said. “Most of this is drug-related at the border where the drugs are crossing. The Baja people in our region are very gentle folks. What crime we have, if any, is minor stuff. But the violence is getting a lot of media attention, and rightfully so. It's a shame, and we know that's bound to affect tourism.”
But Ireland isn't one to back down. He recently poured nearly $500,000 into improvements for his resort and his fishing fleet, and he hopes his many regulars and newcomers will come see and enjoy.
“We were careful not to change the flavor and atmosphere that people love about our place,” Ireland said. “All I could do was add to it. The hotel was showing wear and really needed a facelift.”
Ireland has added fishing boats and said his fleet's super pangas all have new Yamaha motors.
Ireland said his bookings are down about 15 percent, which isn't terrible compared with other resorts around him.
“The improvements were tough to do this year, especially this year, what is going to be a slow year because of the economy and other things,” Ireland said. “It's not something we want to whimper about, because it's contagious. We're actually doing better than our neighbors.”
Ireland recently hosted Jack Nilsen of Accurate Reels and Hobie Kayaks, both of which shot promotional videos on the waters in front of Rancho Leonero.
Bill Roecker of fishingvideos.com filmed for Accurate and stayed at Rancho Leonero. He raved about the fishing, the food, the paradise feel of a place he calls “the Ranch.”
Writing on his fishingvideos.com Web site, Roecker added: “There are several resorts at East Cape, and each has its own flavor and style. But I keep coming back to the Ranch because the place is smaller and more relaxed than most, and it's set away from the rest of the resorts, up on a small headland that gets sea breeze from two sides. If you've got shade, the breeze keeps you cool at the Ranch, and the view flat out cannot be beat.”
Ireland felt that breeze nearly 30 years ago, and he never tires of it.
For more information on Rancho Leonero, visit RanchoLeonero.com or call (800) 646-2252, (800) 334-2252 or (760) 438-2905.