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Tourism and its discontents

29 September 2008

Now that we’re coming to the end of “Sept-hambre” merchants here in Mazatlan and other tourism-centered business communities, are holding their collective breaths.  Whether the U.S. financial melt-down will have as major an impact on the Mexican tourist trade is a given.. whether Canadian and European tourists will make up the difference is questionable.

And… the tourists coming now are different from those in the past, as are their needs and expectations.  Whether tourism is even a benefit to a community is in question, as Kent Patterson wrote last month in the Americas Policy Program Report (“‘Acapulco-ization’: The Final Stage of Tourism?”) on the economic changes successful tourist destinations have had on the local economy:

A huge change has been the shift toward residential tourism. Drawn by the spell of the Bay of Santa Lucia, moneyed outsiders began purchasing time-shares and condos for their visits. Increasingly, hotels faced competition from “pirate” entrepreneurs who rented cheap rooms to cash-strapped visitors.

Changes in tourism also influenced the type of businesses operating in Acapulco. Enjoying their beach visit with a condominium kitchen, tourists could obtain their own meals at the new Wal-Mart or one of the large Mexican-owned big box stores rather than sampling the flavors of a local restaurant.

Even the old mom-and-pop corner store, or “changarro,” romanticized by former President Vicente Fox as the beacon of petty capitalist opportunity, is fast becoming an obsolete institution as U.S.-style convenience stores begin popping up two or three per block in some areas. The largest such chain, OXXO, is owned by a northern Mexico-based corporation, FEMSA, which bottles Coca Cola.

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