Quintana Roo, Mexico has become an internationally acclaimed tourist development area over the past six years. This may be a difficult concept to grasp considering the states economic condition at the end of the 20th, and the first decade of the 21st century. The current status of a tourism haven was not easily accomplished. It took many years of cooperative tourism planning amongst the state, national government officials, and most importantly, the local communities of the areas being developed.
In the early 1990’s, the country of Mexico was searching for untapped tourism resources. The purpose of this search was because popular tourist destinations, like Cancun, were reaching their saturation points and becoming commonplace destinations to the global tourism market. At this point in time, the country’s tourism industry was lacking direction and focus (Levin 5). Top tourism officials were beginning to realize that the “traditional products of sun, sea, and sand were losing inherent value in a continually more competitive market” (Levin 3). Essentially, the country was losing the upper-end of the consumer market, which had greater purchasing power. For a few years, Mexico’s tourism officials tried to rejuvenate many of their popular tourist destinations through various marketing strategies and additional funding. This was an attempt to prevent decline in tourist arrivals. The rejuvenation process proved to be difficult as many of these areas had no additional land to build upon, and were experiencing environmental problems due to overdevelopment.
High profile tourists began to seek other international destinations; and as overall tourist numbers began to drop, tourism officials and other multi-national corporations were searching for other areas to develop. The answer lied in the state of Quintana Roo.
Quintana Roo is situated on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. “The population, except for the concentrations in Chetumal, the state capital, and a few towns, [was] dispersed in hamlets and villages” (Encyc. Br. Online). This undeveloped land was situated outside of the already developed beach resorts that dominated the Mexican tourism industry. The reason for the isolation of parts of the Quintana Roo region was due to the fact that there were not well developed roads or communication linkages with sophisticated regions. Quintana Roo contained valuable untapped resources, such as: the many miles of white, sandy beach shoreline along the Riviera Maya, traditional Mayan communities, the Great Maya Reef and intriguing ancient Mayan ruins (Internet 1).
The significance of Quintana Roo’s undisturbed and natural areas was crucial to Mexico’s tourism industry as other leading tourism countries were turning to a more environmentally based “ecotourism” (Daltabuit and Pi-Sunyer 43). The discovery of these untapped regions gave the Mexican tourism industry the resources necessary to attract this new tourism market.
In 2001, “The Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo (FONATUR)” announced the allocation of 500 million pesos to continue the development of ecologically based tourism in the Quintana Roo region (Latin Am 17). There were some previous “ecotourism” developments in the area; but these attractions ran into reoccurring problems. Ecotourism can be defined as, “sustainable nature-based recreation and tourism” (Lindber and McKercher 65).
Before these public and private national, and multi-national agencies, and corporations invaded this area springing up these “new” ecotourist attractions, the country, for the most part, had relied upon mass development of an area. Until this point, this type of rapid development was usually at the hands of outside investors, and national agencies who had different agendas, as well as conflicting interests with the local communities. The problems arose because while these developments helped bolster the national economy for the short term, they were not sustainable. Mass tourism areas caused great harm to the natural environment and to the local communities.
When the Quintana Roo region was in the planning process, the goal for the development of this new tourism product was to eliminate the problems of sustainability that Mexico had been dealing with in the overdeveloped beach resorts. The government officials involved in the planning process knew they had many great natural resources and archaeological ruins to promote; however, their implemented plans proved to be inefficient.
The national and multi-national bodies involved in the implementation of these plans began to deviate from their goal of promoting the environment, and its many attractions to tourists in their pristine state. The old mentality of “bigger is better” began to take over. The developing areas that were undisturbed only a few years ago, and supposed to be sites for tourists to: view untouched archaeological remains, swim on remote beaches, or see culture in its traditional state were becoming commercialized and monopolized by exterior powers.
Well-developed roads were taking over the dirt and gravel transportation linkages of the past. The people of these communities were losing their sense of identity, and helplessly trying to hang onto their cultural heritage. The only roles of the local communities was to serve as cheap labor during the development of a new attraction, or to act as a circus clown displaying Mayan culture and way of life in its commercialized form. What was supposed to start out as small scale, sustainable development was slowly turning into mass tourism development; and bringing with it, the side effects that were plaguing the economy and its people for quite some time.
For the first decade of the 21st century, there was no action taken by the national tourism offices to step in and halt the massive development. Instead, they were accomplishing national short-term goals of raising economic standards. The new tourist enclaves in Quintana Roo were experiencing steady growth in tourist arrivals over these first ten years; nevertheless, between the years of 2010 and 2015, the region was beginning to experience stagnation, cramped living conditions for locals as they kept being pushed further to the outskirts of major tourist developments and serious environmental hazards that were destroying the ecology of the area.
The local Quintana Roo communities were fed up. This was becoming an all too common picture for local residents as they remembered back to the days of Cancun. When Cancun was in its prime stage, they remembered not having any input into planning processes and only being used as cheap labor, or as artifacts to be put on showcase for tourists. They were tired of having their fate at the hands of national and international agendas. The locals were not going to let multi-national corporations discard them after their cheap labor was exploited during the development process, only to fall victim to these corporations bringing in their own skilled and educated workforce.
In 2010, local citizens from the communities of Akumal, Coba, Tulum and a few other cities in the Quintana Roo region, grouped together to stage a series of protests aimed at national tourism bodies, multi-national corporations and organizations that were continuing to develop new attractions in these communities. These protests were targeted towards: stopping mass development, allowing locals more opinion in tourism plans and protecting the Mayan culture and its archaeological remains. Their voices were heard as they made a pact to halt labor on attractions in the development stage.
In 2012, after two years of protest, which led to many exterior investors pulling out, and heeding tourism revenues for their own benefit, the Mexican national government finally stepped in. During this year, governmental tourism officials, in addition to public and private organizations met with these citizens and listened while they voiced their concerns. After quite a few of these meetings and additional protests, their concerns were honored by both governmental and private tourism bodies. These institutions vowed to conduct a five year study and planning process to be conducted in the Quintana Roo region.
The study was to determine the effects that the development had on the communities standard of living, their pre-development culture and way of life, the area’s natural environment and the Mayan ruins. The study also involved an environmental/ecological analysis, including: special surveys to be conducted of the wildlife, flora and ecological systems, with identification of special environmental areas to be preserved. Another goal of the study was to develop carrying capacities for given areas, based on assumptions of types of visitor use (Inskeep 273). After the study was conducted, the governmental and private bodies involved were to take their findings and implement a new proposed plan to be implemented by the year 2018.
The long-term study was conducted over the next five years. The results proved that the local citizens uproars, staged just five years earlier, were evident in Quintana Roo. In 2018, after the studies were completed, the bodies involved in the studies and the planning process set out to implement the proposed changes. The backbone of this new plan was to: enforce carrying capacities of different regions, involve local agricultural industries in the development of the tourism industry, involve the local citizens in the higher level jobs of the tourism industry and gain full community support in the tourism industry.
The newly implemented plan proved to be a success and still is in 2024. The plan involved ridding the Quintana Roo region of the lingering outside investors, who were still clinging to their attractions, after most had pulled out because of the protests in 2010-2012. The next step was to inform the local communities about the area’s tourism industry operations; and the importance of a well-managed industry that would be benficial to the state of Quintana Roo as well as the country as a whole.
In 2019, the tourism areas of Quintana Roo were broken up into different zones. The development of the zones was based on the type of tourism activities the area marketed; for instance, ecotourism areas were the red zone; archaetourism, which involved the Mayan ruins, were the blue zone; and beach resorts along with water activities were the green zone. From there, carrying capacities for each zone were strictly enforced. After the y were developed, tourism planners set monthly and yearly quotas on the numbers of tourists allowed in each different zone. Each area has specific entry and exit points, and its boundaries are well defined. At the entrance points of each zone, there are visitor information booths with background information about the zone, its regulations and different informational brochures.
All the zones periodically go through follow up studies on the impact of tourist activities to the natural environment of the area. If an area is being degraded and needs improvements, the location is blocked off for a short period of time, and if possible, a replica is reproduced in a different location.
Based on the various carrying capacities, the zones were marketed to attract visitors with specific interests. Those interested in a weekend at a beach resort along the Mayan Riviera would contact a travel agent, who is undoubtedly a native. Then the travel agent would issue their flight, scheduled stay, transportation and most importantly issue, each member of their party an identification card to be carried at all times. This ensures that tourists have the pre-requisites necessary to be in the green zone.
Tourists are allowed the option of purchasing a stay in the green zone for their whole vacation, or for extra money, they could purchase a flex pass, allowing them to spend a certain amount of time in separate zones. They would be transported between the zones via bus or boat, depending on the area. Tourists are only allowed to use the transportation offered between the zones, which cuts down on traffic and pollution.
This system of tourism development has been a success for the Quintana Roo region. Other international destinations are attempting to implement similar models. By maintaining their development base, enforcing carrying capacities and monitoring tourist activity, Quintana Roo has improved its economic status from the days of the short-lived mass tourist developments of places like Cancun and Cozumel.
The Quintana Roo region has a vast array of tourism activities that are compartmentalized and sure to please the many segments of the tourism industry. It has regained the upper-end of the consumer market by way of creating tourism products to cater to the needs of visitors with unique interests. The region provides a tourism product in which all other visitors in your zone enjoy the same activities. Tourists enjoy the uncramped condition, which was not feasible during the massive development period of the past. Previous tourism models did not enforce carrying capacities and allowed visitors to trample between attractions. With follow up studies on the impact of tourist activity, along with additional policies, plans and marketing strategies, Quintana Roo’s tourism industry has a prospective future.
1. Levin, Baron. “Suite dreams.” Chamber of Commerce of Mexico Business Mexico 1
June 1999. Reproduced by Lexis Nexis Academic Universe.
2. “Quintana Roo” Encyclopedia Britanica Online. *http://www.eb.com:180/bol/topic?eu=63870&sctn=1* [Acessed 13 November 1999].
3. Internet: http://www.rivieramaya.com/english/riviera.stm