The creation of mass tourism in Cancun, Mexico

The creation of touristic Cancun is often dubbed as the brainchild of a group of bankers far away from Mexico City. As recently as mid-1960s, the area was kwon as one of the most backward, remote, unhealthy, uneducated and sparsely populated regions of Mexico. The life in this region has continued as it has been for centuries, with inadequate communications and no electrical or plumbing facilities. The territory was very sparsely connected with very few roads and did not have an airport (García de Fuentes, 1979).

However, Quintana Roo state is blessed with about 860 km of coastline, a beautiful stretch encompassing a wide variety of scenic features, including bays, inlets, freshwater springs, lagoons, mangroves, sand dunes, rocky areas and beautiful white sand beaches – the backbone of the tourism industry. These calcareous beaches have been marketed as air-conditioned, remain cool and pleasant to walk on, even under the most blazing of tropical suns. An additional attraction is the Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef (MACR), the second largest barrier reef system in the world. The MACR begins near Cancun, and continues southward until the Bay Islands of Honduras (Marti, 1985; Torres Maldonado, 2001).

Despite the abundant natural and cultural attractions, tourism did not begin in Cancun until last four decades. However, by 2000, over two million visitors arrived to the Cancun resort each year. The transition started during the 1960’s economic crisis in Mexico as tourism represented an important opportunity to bring foreign currency into the country. The creation of large touristic resorts in Cancun were considered as the ideal instrument to take advantage of natural resources, for instance pleasant weather, sun, san and sea (Hiernaux-Nicolas, 1999; Macías y Pérez, 2009).

The actual development of Cancun started in the 1970’s, when the Mexican government encouraged the large public construction and complementary measures to attract foreign and national investment with an idea that those megaprojects would bring modernization to rural areas through their insertion into the international market (GQR, 1993). Nevertheless, this proposal was questioned since its creation. It was argued that the proposed development would go along with severe deficiencies related to touristic urbanization, such as the overexploitation of natural resources, uncontrolled migration, irregular settlements, and marginalization of the native population, crime and prostitution amongst others (García de Fuentes, 1979; Jiménez, 2010).

Strikingly, the transition of a forest enclave on the wild far side of Mexico into a modern tourism destination happened in a span of just 30 years. The creation of touristic Cancun is indeed fascinating with its development largely determined by the planning of Mexican government.