Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cancún, no longer an oasis for most

News analysis - On May Day, mayor admits the party's over in renowned resort

*Updates below*
Cancún, Quintana Roo --
Yesterday much of the world celebrated May Day, or International Workers' Day, which is observed in dozens of countries with parades and speeches extolling the value of human labor to society throughout history. May 1 is known as El Día del Trabajo in Mexico.

There was such a parade in Cancún, one of dozens across the country here. After the event mayor Julián Ricalde Magaña made some startling admissions during a press conference, candidly offering a bleak assessment of the region's economy. The mayor noted that struggling workers in his city "scarcely have enough to eat."

"We haven't seen the growth in the hotel industry that we did in the 1980s and 90s, and we have to adjust ourselves to new (economic) realities. We're having problems sustaining jobs, which is going to cause us difficulties in other areas of public life," he said, in a clear reference to Cancún's rapidly deteriorating security.

The city of Cancún, Mexico, officially founded April 20, 1970, had its 42nd birthday just a couple of weeks ago. But in the opinion of many there wasn't much cause to celebrate.

Cancún was designed and built from the ground up to entertain the foreign masses. And although more and more Mexican domestic travelers enjoy Riviera Maya destinations, the city was intended first and foremost as a gringo playground. You could argue that the deal has worked out just fine for everybody. Based upon the most recent stats (2011), Cancún and other nearby resorts -- Playa del Carmen, Isla de Mujeres, Cozumel -- remain at the top of the wish list for American travelers. The influx of U.S. greenbacks, Canadian dollars, and euros has brought prosperity to many - or the appearance of prosperity. But behind the rows of neatly positioned mega hotels sitting only a few meters off the shimmering white beaches, behind salubrious palm tress and luxurious aqua swimming pools which beckon the traveler, the Cancún economy has produced other returns for its residents.

Not everyone came to the Riviera Maya to sunbathe, swim, snorkel and sight-see. Some came to acquire substances which might be more difficult or more expensive to procure at home, or which might carry far more serious personal and professional consequences if discovered. They came for marijuana and cocaine and methamphetamine. Cancún is now home to a thriving narcotics industry, which has become the employment of last resort for many. There are Zetas. There are Matazetas. There are Pelones. There are halcones (hawks), whose job it is to spy on the movements of the police, the military and each other. There are executioners and bloody dismemberment units. There is a multi-billion dollar a year industry easily rivaling tourism. Millions of potential customers pass through the city. Corruption is common in local police forces, and the taxi driver waiting for his next fare may also deal in drugs or death or both. This is Cancún 2012, even in the "secure" hotel zone. (Delincuencia arraigada entre taxistas).

To be sure, there are still thousands of local workers who will wait your table, change the dirty linens in your hotel room or fetch you a poolside margarita or mojito. They struggle to collect a few pesos each week in wages and tips, trying to feed themselves and their kids, hoping, perhaps, that enough will be left over to pay for some school supplies, or a visit to the doctor or dentist. But as the mayor of Cancún admitted yesterday, the glory days of easy money for all are over. The city has been overbuilt, there are too many hotel rooms and restaurants and not enough customers to sustain the hospitality industry year round, and rising unemployment has spawned the most brutal and gruesome crime imaginable.

Julián Ricalde Magaña delivered a solemn prognosis at the May Day parade. His message was simple and direct: "The dogs are no longer leashed with sausage." In plain English, the high rolling days in Cancún are over. Some in this balmy Caribbean resort are facing an uncertain economic future. Others, something far more ominous.

Note: According to Q.R. state government sources, Cancún and the Riviera Maya have a combined 81,000 hotel rooms. More than seven million tourists visited the area in 2011.

Aug. 25 - Cancún's city council has authorized an emergency $100 million peso ($7.7 million dollar) bailout loan, so that it can pay off municipal suppliers and common creditors. The line of credit from giant banker HSBC supposedly will be paid back in 180 days - a goal unlikely to be met, given that the city needs the money in the first place. But the mayor promises the loan will not be converted into long-term debt.
Aug. 23 - As if Cancún had not enough challenges, now, one more: crocodiles.
Aug. 17 - Isla de Mujeres is flooded with drug dealers, young bandits who target foreign tourists and undocumented Cubans who arrive by sea under cover of darkness. How much worse will it get? (Empty hotel rooms on Isla de Mujeres).
Aug. 4 - On paper Cancún hotel owners have had a decent summer 2012, with occupancy averaging 85%. But there's little profit. Exactly the same percentage of customers are looking for "everything included" packages -- lodging, food, cocktail hours, etc.. That pushes the industry "to the wall," and prevents any meaningful economic recovery from recent years of great difficulty.
July 17 - Cancún continues to suffer from greatly reduced tourist spending, the local press reports today. Most travelers are looking for package deals, with food included in the lodging price, making it extremely difficult to turn a profit according to a hotel trade group official. This year the average tourist will spend about $800 on food and lodging during a Cancún vacation, whereas in the "golden years" of the 1990s the average was $2,000 per person, with a stay of at least five days. Those days are likely gone forever, the official lamented.
June 21 - Cancún's urban core declining from lack of investment, security issues
June 18 - The Mexican Caribbean has become a hideout for criminals
May 24 - Falling peso, global economic woes and local insecurity affect Cancún real estate

Los Zetas, al mando del sindicato de taxistas:
Sindicato de taxistas, fuera de control:
Taxistas, peones del crimen organizado:
Cancún hotel exec offers gloomy prognosis for local industry:
Hotel Oasis Cancún slow in cooperating with police:
Brutal execution at Grand Oasis Cancún:

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