As I realized that soon we’ll enter summer and be halfway through the year, I began to reflect on the many changes happening throughout Mexico this year and for the past several years. I have lived in the heart of the Riviera Maya for the past fifteen years in Playa del Carmen and have the seen many of the changes firsthand. I wanted to also reach out to some of the Mexico developers and ask them about the impact of these changes. What are their biggest issues thus far this year and what have they experienced through the last several years, as tourism in Mexico continues to grow at a very rapid rate.
The past fifteen years have witnessed a rapid population growth throughout the main tourist areas such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum in the state of Quintana Roo. There has also been tremendous growth in tourist locations such as Puerta Vallarta, Nayarit, Cabos San Lucas, and other destinations around the country.
My village of Playa del Carmen has seen an annual population growth rate of approximately 25 percent. The municipality of Solidarity, which includes Playa del Carmen, currently has a population of over 200,000. It’s considered the fastest growing city in all of Latin America. Quintana Roo is home to more than 65 percent of the timeshare resorts in Mexico. The State Population Council (COESPO) for Quintana Roo predicts the state’s population will reach more than two million by 2025. Enoel Perez Cortez, federal delegate for the Labor and Social Security Secretariat (STPS) says, “People keep coming every day in search of work. In particular, young people arrive here for employment opportunities from around the country, and once they become established, they send for their families.” As of this year the average age in the state is 26 years old.
As I sit here in my office right now, I hear construction as another new condominium building is being constructed right across the street. Each day, I drive around town and see new businesses, hotels, restaurants, and more we did not see six months ago. So with this being the case, what are some of the issues facing these fast-growing tourist destinations and the resorts in the region?
As I began to research the impact this growth has on these tourist locations, I uncovered many things. First, in tourist cities like Playa del Carmen and Cancun, which have seen a tremendous increase in population, there is a tremendous need for human services as the population grows. Also, there is a tremendous need for increased infrastructure to support medical services, public safety and security, road construction, water, fire departments, and more. More and more people are moving to the tourist destinations seeking employment opportunity and better wages.
These same concerns can be said for tourist locations such as Cabos San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Nayarit, and others. Cabos San Lucas has seen its population grow from approximately 44,000 in 1990 to over 290,000 today. In 2017, they had more than 2.1 million visitors – 75 percent of them international travelers and the majority of those from the United States. Cabo San Lucas suffered the same issues as my locale with the rapid population growth.
Ramon Ojeda Mestre, the president of the Center for Integral Studies of Innovation and Territory, a consultancy in Cabo San Lucas, stated, “There was no sane planning for where all the working people were going to live.” He went on to explain some of the working class carved out illegal settlements called “invasions” which are assembled from scrap building materials and tarps, tree branches, sticks, and cardboard. By the municipality’s estimates, approximately 25,000 people live in such settlements in Cabos San Lucas.
So what does this all mean for the developer of timeshare resorts in Mexico? There are many concerns facing them, such as public safety and security, skilled labor needs, airport efficiency, highway and road construction, high speed internet capability, potable water, energy, and the list goes on and on.
Recently Federal Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid addressed some of these concerns during a conference in which the Mexican government launched a new program called “Viajemos Todos por Mexico” aimed at the American and Mexican American communities. He will be visiting cities with large Hispanic populations in the USA such as Chicago, Dallas, New York, Houston, and Miami to speak about the new program. During the conference, he said, “We must work on infrastructure, language issues, and develop a skilled labor work force.” He went on to explain the need for Mexico’s state and local governments to work in unity in the tourist destinations, and also in cooperation with the resort developers and local business owners.
Many of the developers I spoke with said they will continue to support the state and local municipalities to help fund some of the issues about which they are most concerned, such as public safety and security, road construction, and training local employees.
Many of the developers are also building eco-friendly resorts and investing in sustainable eco-tourism projects. One resort I visited recently organized a beach clean-up day in which the resort employees gathered in the morning and spent the day on the beach picking up litter and handing out flyers to people about the importance of the local eco-system.
Some developers have also funded local police forces with new equipment, trucks, and paid for surveillance cameras. In addition, several resort developers in Mexico offer English language skills courses to their employees. They have stated that these programs have helped bridge the gap between their employees and the members they serve.
There are a number of issues developers are faced with as Mexico continues to grow as a top ten tourist destination country. They are investing in the long term future by working with the state and local governments, providing labor skills to their employees, remaining conscientious to the local eco-system, and providing their own funds for public safety and security. We are confident that Mexico is on the right track and given the joint efforts with state and local governments, it will continue to be a successful tourist destination.