The number of visitors who arrived in Mexico on cruise ships hit a 10-year high in 2018, the majority of them stopping at Cozumel in Quintana Roo.
Data from the General Coordination of Ports and Merchant Marines showed that more than 7.84 million passengers arrived at Mexican ports on 2,603 cruise ships last year.
Cozumel was the most popular cruise destination, with more than 4.2 million passengers - 54% of the total - disembarking on the island, located off the coast of Playa del Carmen.
"With these results, the leadership of Cozumel in the cruise ship industry in Mexico and Latin America is once again confirmed," Alicia Ricalde, head of the Quintana Roo Port Administration authority, told El Financiero.
"[As a result] the residents of Quintana Roo have more and better opportunities for economic development," she added.
Mahahual, Quintana Roo, and Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, joined Cozumel to make up the top three most visited destinations by cruise ship passengers. Together they account for 79.1% of all tourists in the sector.
Data from the federal Secretary of Tourism (Sectur) shows that up to November last year, passengers arriving on cruise ships made up 19% of all visitors to Mexico.
While in the country, they spent US $498.5 million, or an average of US $67 per passenger, a figure well below the US $909 spent by tourists who arrive by air.
Francisco Ceballos, a manager at the travel website Despegar, attributed the strong cruise ship arrival numbers to lower prices and the ease with which cruises can be booked online.
"This way of traveling is no longer seen as something exclusive for a high socio-economic segment [of the market], now it's an accessible option for travel..." he said.
"Cozumel has positioned itself at a worldwide level as one of the most important ports for cruise ship tourism ahead of international destinations like Nassau [Bahamas] and San Juan [Puerto Rico]," Ceballos added.
While the sector recorded its best figures in a decade, growth in the number of cruise ship visitors actually declined compared to 2017 from 13% to 8%.
Tour operators attributed the weaker growth to insecurity, saying that it continues to dissuade people from visiting Mexico and that United States government travel warnings are particularly harmful to the tourism industry.
But Pablo Azcárraga, president of the National Tourism Business Council (CNET), said that efforts are being made to change perceptions.
"Insecurity is an issue that continues to concern us, but we're working with tour operators and the United States government so that they realize that [the violence] is focused [on certain parts of the country]," he said.
Nevertheless, overall international tourism numbers are expected to remain strong in 2019, with the federal government predicting that almost 45 million visitors will arrive.
Tourism contributes to 8.7% of GDP, Tourism Secretary Miguel Torruco Marqués said last month, and Mexico is the sixth most visited country in the world.El Financiero article translated and edited by Mexico News Daily.