Despite considering myself an avid traveller, I can affirm that I don’t know my own country: Mexico. Out of 672 archaeological sites, I’ve been to fifteen. Out of 80 colonial towns, I have visited five. Throughout the years, Mexico constantly surprised me with destinations that I had no idea existed. However, I argue that my constant sense of wonder is in fact bad news for tourism.
Montealbán, Oaxaca. Photo by Lourdes Zamanillo
It’s difficult to desire something if you don’t know it even exists. Places like Tolantongo, Hierve el Agua or Cantona are known only to a few people despite their authenticity and uniqueness. It would seem that the national tourism marketing strategy hasn’t known how to take advantage of the peculiarities behind these destinations and has invested more resources in the classical beach tourism - where all-inclusive packages offer you the chance to “know” Mexico from the comfort of your hotel.
Maybe this is one of the biggest mistakes Mexico has made. According to its tourism office, SECTUR, 52% of the hotels on a national level are concentrated in only eight cities: Cancun, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, Acapulco, Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey (five of them beach destinations). The rest of the country mainly receives domestic visitors that live in nearby cities.
We should strive to build a tourism industry that goes beyond disconnecting from routine. Yes, vacations are a time for rest, but they can also be an incredible opportunity to get immersed in unknown cultures and actually learn something new. Tourism is one of the main engines for economic development in many regions. Since the industry is closely linked to many other sectors, it has the potential to promote commerce and infrastructure development, create jobs and promote regional investment. If well planned, the construction of public utilities such as roads, airports, access to drinkable water and telecommunications will not only benefit tourists, but improve the quality of life and well-being of locals.
Mexico is only just recovering from an insecurity crisis that lashed the country with increased violence and that affected tourism numbers in a great extent over the last decade. However, if we take into account that violence is only the result of a grave socioeconomic inequality that has 46% of the Mexican population underneath the poverty line according to the Mexican office that evaluates the social development (Known as CONEVAL), we can deduce that what the country really needs are alternative engines for development.
Photo by Lourdes Zamanillo
Mexico needs jobs. Tourism has the capacity to create them. But for that to happen the country needs to create a comprehensive plan that engages and builds the skills of local communities. However, as tourists (and in my case, as Mexican), we should be the first ones to demand and consume a more comprehensive and conscious tourism industry. We cannot call ourselves world savvy if we only search and buy commodified products.