Article by Jennifer Kester, published in Forbes Travel Guide
Los Cabos was named the world’s first VERIFIED travel destination after nearly all of its hotels earned an independent health validation from digital health company Sharecare. The title is the first for the health security of hotels.
Among the Mexican region’s 85 hotels, 84 of them have completed and maintained verification on more than 360 global health security standards, including health and hygiene protocols, cleaning products and procedures, ventilation and health safety communication for guests and employees. The remaining hotel is undergoing the verification process. (Full disclosure: Forbes Travel Guide helped to develop the VERIFIED platform.)
“It’s an acknowledgment and an encouragement to continue working towards having this goal, that is, offering the highest level of satisfaction to our visitors,” says Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of Los Cabos Tourism Board, about being VERIFIED. “Los Cabos has always been a destination that has excelled in exceeding the expectations of the visitors, even those that are repeat visitors.”
The certification is particularly meaningful for the hotels, given that tourism makes up 80 percent of the Los Cabos economy and the pandemic has made health safety measures a top priority among travelers. “Being VERIFIED not only means that the destination is operating with the highest degree of safety, but that resorts in the destination are consistently verifying their health protocols on an ongoing basis, ensuring compliance with the latest global health standards,” says Robert Logan, general manager of One&Only Palmilla, Los Cabos Resort. “It adds an extra layer of validation for our guests to come with a peace of mind, knowing that they and their families are safe not only at One&Only Palmilla but in Los Cabos as well.”
Montage Los Cabos general manager Marco Ortlam agrees. “It demonstrates the commitment of the destination and all hoteliers in Los Cabos to the safety protocols and to the importance of tourism. We are grateful to be able to have the VERIFIED tool available that provides a peace of mind to everyone traveling to Cabo and also unified safety protocols.”
The area’s history of coming together to meet common goals at difficult times is the secret to achieving the first-time designation, according to Esponda. “We are a very united destination, and from many, many, many years back, that’s how we have overcome natural disasters, economic crises and other situations,” he says. “Our geography forces us to work together because we are separated in the peninsula. So that’s how we have been facing COVID-19. The Sharecare initiative is part of that, it’s part of the nature of collaboration that we have.”
That’s not to say it was easy, given the variety of accommodations in Los Cabos. “I think that’s the beauty of the Sharecare platform, that all types of hotels can participate, and all types of hotels must offer the same level of health safety to the visitors,” Esponda says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a super-small family-owned hotel or a 500-room property part of an international hotel chain.”
Los Cabos has been taking many steps to protect travelers and to make its health security logistics easier to maintain. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instituted a mandatory PCR or antigen test for travelers within 72 hours of a return flight to the U.S. (even for those who are vaccinated), the destination quickly came up with a plan.
“We decided that to offer personal service we need to do onsite testing not only in hotels, but vacation clubs, villa rental companies,” Esponda says. Montage Los Cabos, for example, provides free antigen testing with a same-day turnaround for all its guests.
Another hurdle was caring for guests who test positive but display no symptoms. To help these visitors undergo the required 14-day quarantine, some properties, such as Nobu Hotel Los Cabos, promise complimentary accommodations for the lockdown. The rest provide discounts. For example, One&Only Palmilla guarantees a minimum of 35 percent off the best available rate or the original booking rate, whichever is less.
Los Cabos is operating at half-capacity maximum throughout the destination, including hotels, restaurants, transportation and even the beaches, where police are on hand to take temperatures and regulate seaside access.
There’s also a midnight curfew. “I think that’s been very successful for us because as you’ve seen in other destinations in the world, the nightlife in itself has been a focal point of contagious outbreaks,” Esponda says. But this doesn’t just control the hours for bars and clubs; it includes hotels. “The authorities do inspections in town and inside the resorts so that everything is completely shut down,” he says. “It’s a way to refrain and contain the situation.”
Adhering to these and other health protocols has helped Los Cabos become an example for other areas looking to become more health secure. “As the first VERIFIED destination, Los Cabos and its tourism board are setting an important precedent for both the hospitality industry and other communities around the globe; through this initiative, they’ve put the health and safety of travelers, workers and residents at the forefront and at a regional scale,” says Hermann Elger, executive vice president and general manager of travel, entertainment and health security at Atlanta-based Sharecare. “For travelers, we’re thrilled that the Los Cabos Tourism Board has helped make health security the new standard, no matter where you chose to stay in Los Cabos.”
More than 570 hotels in 58 countries have received the VERIFIED badge, a third-party seal of approval that eliminates the need for travelers to wade through long, complicated lists of health measures to determine if a hotel is safe.
“We don’t tell hotels and resorts how to clean — we recognize there are many valid approaches,” Elger says. “Instead, we help them confirm their various measures align with the most up-to-date public health guidance and protocols, and in many cases, exceed them. This is accomplished by having the team on-property attest and confirm that they have the important elements of health security in place, which we’ve made easy to do in our VERIFIED platform. Additionally, in order to maintain their verification, each property that achieves this designation commits to ensuring all protocols and procedures are routinely re-verified through the platform.”
Los Cabos already has seen an increase in tourism as the vaccine rolls out across the globe. “The hotel guests that were regulars and have not been coming in a year, they are already coming back all vaccinated,” Esponda says. “We are hearing that a lot of people, as soon as they get the confirmation of the date that they are going to get the second vaccine, they immediately call their adviser or travel agent and book their trip.”
Yet, even after the number of those vaccinated increases dramatically, Esponda anticipates that these new procedures will remain. “All the protocols that we are discussing and the Sharecare certification is the way that tourism would take place in the next two or three years [at least],” he says. “The more that we are focused on offering that level of safety to the visitors, the better it will be for the sake of the destination.”