Post-Hurricane Cancun Wants to Ditch Party-Town Image

Cancun tourism officials said Thursday they want to attract more Mexican tourists and upscale travelers to bring the hurricane-devastated Caribbean resort back as Mexico's No. 1 tourist destination.

The rebuilding process is still going on to repair nearly $2 billion in insured damages caused by Hurricane Wilma, the costliest hurricane in the country's history.

Tourism officials said the city wants to lose its label as a party town of only wet T-shirt contests and all-you-can-drink discos and draw more high-end visitors and more Mexican tourists, who now make up 30 percent of its 3 million annual visitors.

CountryWatch: Mexico

More than half of Cancun's tourists arrive from the United States. Of those, 5 percent are spring breakers.

Wilma, packing winds reaching 150 mph and torrential rains, roared ashore Oct. 21 and sat parked over Cancun for more than a day, toppling homes and businesses, sparking widespread flooding and blowing away much of the sand from the beaches in front of hotels along the city's glitzy hotel zone.

More than 75 percent of Cancun's 27,000 hotel rooms were left uninhabitable and a little more than 20,000 are now available.

Fox's government spent $19 million to dredge the ocean floor and replenish the beaches with 2.7 million cubic meters of sand, and tourism officials now are launching a $4 million campaign to promote its new image.

Many of the hotels and restaurants popular with U.S. college students have been rebuilt as more exclusive resorts with some charging up to $400 a night for a room and $150 for a spa treatment.

"Wilma left an impression," city tourism director Artemio Santos told a news conference in Mexico City. "It gave us an opportunity to unite and redefine ourselves."

Loreda Cichetti, of Saatchi & Saatchi public relations firm, presented the new image of Cancun with the slogan: "There is always something new to discover."

Officials said the city, however, does not want to lose spring breakers, it simply wants to expand its market.