Today, July 18, 2007, I attended the forum for citizens on tourism sponsored by SECTUR, the Secretaria de Turismo for Mexico. Their conference, at the Hyatt Hotel in Mérida, included speeches from the former Secretaria de Turismo del Estado de Yucatán and now Subdirectora de Turismo for the Federal government, Carolina Cárdenas Sosa, outgoing Yucatán Governor Patricio Patrón Laviada, and newly-elected Mérida mayor Cesar Bojorquez. This was intended as a community forum for those involved in tourism in Yucatán. The audience was filled with those in leadership positions and business owners, mostly men. There was a noticeable absence of people from the community, particularly Maya communities in Yucatán. Bojorquez spoke of the need to capitalize on the archeological richness and a rescue of the ecological patrimony of the state along with a focus on how Yucatán is a very secure region. This is in marked contrast to other regions of México in which crimes, mostly by narcotraficantes, occur and cast a negative shadow on the tourism industry. Mérida, he said, should be the pride of México. Cárdenas focused on what she called the “sexenio de turismo” meaning that the focus of President Calderon’s administration, a six-year term, would be tourism – primarily cultural tourism as a way to generate more riches for our people. Patron Laviada, the last to speak in the morning session, mentioned several times that tourism was the motor for economic development in the region. Our “gran ventaja es la cultura Maya.” (great advantage is Maya culture). While he did mention that the Maya culture lives, he was one of many who focused on Maya culture in the past. He spoke of how the money generated through tourism (the motor) benefited those living near the tourist zones. One, therefore, is led to believe that he is speaking of the common people and economic development that is possible through tourism. At that moment I thought of my friends near Uxmal and Chichén Itzá. They have benefitted to some extent but not in any sense of riches that enable them to dramatically change their hopes and expectations. It seems that much of the tourism, the agency of tourism, is outside of the hands of people living in the shadows of the great Maya archeological heritage sites. They are not in control of their own destinies in this sense, mostly because of a lack of capital, training, and other resources.
While some speakers were indeed skeptical of the benefits tourism has brought to Yucatán, including to the rural regions, others demonstrated a typical colonialist attitude that transported one back 100 years ago. In a comment to one presenter, who suggested that all Mexicans travel to Chichén Itzá and learn more about cultural heritage, this man referred to the actions and attitudes of “nuestras Mayitas” (who are so sweet and nice) as a good thing – well, I am not sure what he meant to tell the truth.In general, the major theme was increasing the quality of tourism offerings, taking advantage of Maya culture and the environment, to keep tourists here for longer. It is obvious that the state is in direct competition with its neighbor Quintana Roo.
Yucatecans are proud that Chichén Itzá is one of the New 7 Wonders. That’s what people talk about. Now Yucatán can experience more tourism and people can know about this great cultural legacy. Certainly there are criticisms. Concerns about traffic, road conditions, how to accommodate and take advantage of the exponential growth they perceive as a result. Other criticisms are aimed at the competition itself. The pyramids in Egypt were given “honorary” wonder status when the Egyptian government complained to the competition organizers. Why should a popular election of people who have never been to these sites, much less people who have access to the internet or cell phones, warrant “wonder” status. Just what does that imply? So here we have the New 7 Wonders designated in much the same way American Idol picks their stars.
This touches, in many ways, on the subject of immigration. While the Yucatán tries to increase tourism, many people from rural areas continue to migrate to the US illegally because of lack of gainful employment in the state. Even when people are employed, many have more than one job, because wages in the state are low. Many people I have spoken with explain to me how wages are much lower in Yucatán than they are in the neighboring, tourist-rich, state of Quintana Roo. Causing many also to migrate to Quintana Roo.