Retirees and “residential tourism”: a case study of Chapala-Ajijic in Jalisco

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Retirees and “residential tourism”: a case study of Chapala-Ajijic in Jalisco
Jan 162014

Retirees, mainly from the USA and Canada, form a special subgroup of tourists. About 1 million US visitors to Mexico each year are over the age of 60. Their total expenditure is about $500 million a year. Three-quarters arrive by air; half of these stay 4-8 days and almost one in ten stays 30 days or longer. Half stay in hotels, and one-third in time-shares; the remainder either stay with family or friends, or own their own second home. Of the 25% arriving by land, almost one in three stays 30 days or more. For Canadians, the patterns are broadly similar except that a higher percentage arrive by air.

The number of retiree tourists is relatively easy to quantify. However, it is extremely difficult to place accurate figures on the number of non-working, non-Mexicans who have chosen to relocate full-time to Mexico. Technically, these “residential tourists” are not really tourists at all but longer-term migrants holding residency visas. They form a very distinct group in several Mexican towns and cities, with lifestyle needs and spending patterns that are very different from those of tourists. Their additional economic impact is believed to exceed $500 million a year.

Map of Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico

Map of Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

The largest single US retirement community outside the USA is the Guadalajara-Chapala region in Jalisco, according to state officials (see map). The metropolitan area of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, has a population of about 4 million. The villages of Chapala and Ajijic (combined population about 40,000) sit on the north shore of Lake Chapala some 50 km (30 mi) to the south. Historically, Chapala was the first lakeshore settlement to attract foreign settlers, as early as the start of the 20th century. Today the area is home to a mix of foreign artists, intellectuals, escapees (of various non-judicial kinds), pensioners and ex-servicemen. In the last 40 years, Ajijic has become the focal point of the sizable non-Mexican community living on the lakeshore. Depending on how they are defined, there are probably between 6000 and 10,000 foreign residents in the Chapala-Ajijic area, the higher number reflecting the peak winter season. About 60% of retirees in the area own their own homes or condos, though many still own property in the USA or Canada as well, and many make regular trips north of the border.

The main pull factors for residential tourists are an amenable climate; reasonable property prices; access to stores, restaurants and high quality medical service; an attractive natural environment; a diversity of social activities; proximity to airports; tax advantages, and relatively inexpensive living costs.

David Truly has suggested that conventional tourist typologies do not work well with Ajijic retirees. He identified migrant clusters with similar likes and dislikes. Retirees vary in education, travel experience and how they make decisions about relocation. Early migrants tended to dislike the USA and Canada and adapted to life in Mexico. They were generally content with anonymity unlike many more recent migrants. Traditional migrants appreciate all three countries, but have chosen Mexico as their place of permanent residence. Many new migrants do not especially like the USA or Canada but are not particularly interested in Mexico either. They seek familiar pastimes and social settings and are content to have relatively little interaction with Mexicans.

The large influx of residential tourists into small lakeside communities like Ajijic inevitably generates a range of reactions among the local populace. From empirical studies of regular tourism elsewhere, George Doxey developed an “irritation index” describing how the attitudes of host communities change as tourist numbers increase. His model applies equally well to residential tourists. In the initial stage the host community experiences euphoria (all visitors are welcome, no special planning occurs). As numbers increase, host attitudes change to apathy (visitors are taken for granted) and then annoyance (misgivings about tourism are expressed, carrying capacities are exceeded, additional infrastructure is planned). If numbers continue to grow, hosts may reach the stage of antagonism, where irritations are openly expressed and incomers are perceived as the cause of significant problems.

Residential tourism in the Chapala-Ajijic area has certainly wrought great changes on the landscape. Residential tourists have created a distinct cultural landscape in terms of architectural styles, street architecture and the functions of settlements. (Browse the Chapala Multiple Listing Service New Properties). Gated communities have been tacked on to the original villages. Subdivisions, two around golf courses, have sprawled up the hillsides. Swimming pools are common. Much of the signage is in English. Even the central plazas have been remodeled to reflect foreign tastes. Traditional village homes have been gentrified, some in an alien “New Mexico” style.

On the plus side, many retirees, as a substitute for the family they left behind, engage in philanthropic activities, with a particular focus on children and the elderly. Retiree expenditures also boost the local economy. Areas benefiting from retirees include medical, legal and personal services, real estate, supermarkets, restaurants, gardening and housecleaning. Employment is boosted, both directly and indirectly, which improves average local living standards.

On the minus side, decades of land speculation have had a dramatic impact on local society. Land and property prices have risen dramatically. Many local people have become landless domestic servants, gardeners and shop-keepers with a sense that the area is no longer theirs. Crime levels have risen and some local traditions have suffered. The abuse of water supplies has resulted in declining well levels. Over zealous applications of fertilizers and pesticides have contaminated local water sources.

Other locations besides Chapala-Ajijic where a similar influence of non-Mexican retirees on the landscape can be observed include San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato), Cuernavaca (Morelos), Mazatlán (Sinaloa), Puerto Peñasco (Sonara), Rosarito (Baja California) and Todos Santos (Baja California Sur). The most preferred locations are all on the Pacific coast side of Mexico.

As more baby-boomers reach retirement age, residential tourism offers many Mexican towns and cities a way of overcoming the seasonality of conventional tourism. Lesser-developed regions have an opportunity to cash in on their cultural and natural heritage and improve their basic infrastructure.

This is a lightly edited excerpt from chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.


  • Boehm S., B. 2001 El Lago de Chapala: su Ribera Norte. Un ensayo de lectura del paisaje cultural. 2001. Relaciones 85, Invierno, 2001. Vol XXII: 58-83.
  • Burton, T. 2008 Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an Anthology of Travellers’ Tales. Canada: Sombrero Books.
  • Doxey G.V. 1975 A causation theory of visitor‑resident irritants: methodology and research inferences. Proceedings of the Travel Research Association, San Diego, California, USA: 195‑8.
  • Stokes, E.M. 1981 La Colonia Extranero: An American retirement Community in Ajijic, Mexico. PhD dissertation, University of New York, Stony Brook, cited in Truly, D. 2002.
  • Truly, D. 2002 International Retirement migration and tourism along the Lake Chapala Riviera: developing a matrix of retirement migration behavior. Tourism Geographies. Vol 4 # 3, 2002: 261-281.
  • Truly, D. 2006 The Lake Chapala Riviera: The evolution of a not so American foreign community, in Bloom, N.D. (ed) 2006 Adventures into Mexico: American Tourism beyond the Border. Rowman & Littlefield: 167-190

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Many Mexican Bracero workers still trying to claim their pay

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Nov 302013

In response to severe labor needs during the second world war, the governments of Mexico and the USA initiated the Bracero guest worker program in 1942. The program enabled Mexico to contribute to the war effort by sending temporary agricultural workers to the USA. Mexicans were granted renewable six month visas to work on selected farms. Most migrants under the Bracero program came from the same three states, Michoacán, Jalisco and Guanajuato. They worked mostly in California and other states along the Mexican border.

Los BracerosAs a result of the Bracero program, some farmers in the USA became very dependent on relatively cheap Mexican labor. The program was considered a great success by farmers. Unfortunately mistreatment of Bracero laborers was widespread. In protest, the Mexican Government threatened to stop the flow of migrants. During the war many Mexicans who were not recruited under the Bracero program entered the USA illegally looking for work. Tolerance for unauthorized migration developed on both sides of the border. With a large dependency in the USA on Mexican farm workers and a large supply in Mexico, there was virtually no way to put a halt to this migration stream.

Labor unions, churches and Latino groups in the USA opposed the Bracero program on the grounds that it held down farm wages and impeded the upward mobility of US Hispanics. They convinced the US Congress to halt the Bracero program in 1964. Between 1942 and 1964 an estimated 4.5 million Mexican Bracero workers entered the USA. At its height in the late 1950s more than 500,000 workers migrated each year. Most were temporary migrants who returned to Mexico within a year, often settling in larger cities, exacerbating the flow of migrants from rural areas to the growing cities. The Bracero program set the stage for the continued high volume of Mexican labor migration to the USA.

In an effort to ensure that the Bracero workers were only temporary migrants to the USA, the US government withheld 10% of all their earnings. The US government then remitted this amount to the Mexican government for payment to the workers on their return home. More than 70 years after the Bracero program started, many braceros are still trying to claim money that they earned legitimately years ago and that is still owed to them by the Mexican government.

The struggles of temporary bracero workers who were never repaid the 10% that had been withheld, are detailed in a short October 2013 article entitled “Bracero Guestworkers, Unpaid”, written by Adam Goodman and Verónica Zapata Rivera (history doctorate students at, respectively, the University of Pennsylvania and Mexico’s National Autonomous University).

The article also describes some of the other injustices faced by Bracero workers, including forced whole-body fumigation with DDT as they crossed the US border.

For more information about the Bracero program, see The Bracero Archive

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The growth of the city of Monterrey, Mexico’s industrial powerhouse

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Oct 282013

A series of historical maps of the city of Monterrey was published earlier this year in the city’s online Catalog of Buildings of Historic and Artistic Importance in Barro Antiguo, The maps, dated 1765, 1791, 1846, 1865, 1922, 1933 and 1947 respectively, offer a good basis for considering the urban growth of Monterrey, the industrial powerhouse of northern Mexico.

In chapter 22 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, we explained why, “Monterrey does not fit the general Latin American urban model as well as Mexico City or Guadalajara. First, it never really existed as a colonial city. Secondly, its development was more heavily dependent on industry. Thirdly, its relative wealth and progressive leadership in some ways make it more similar to a North American city than a Latin American city. It fits the model only in that it developed a definite high status sector in contrast to lower status industrial sectors, and eventually became spatially fragmented.”

But just how did Monterrey develop as a city? In each of the following historical maps of Monterrey, Barrio Antiguo (16 blocks in size in the present-day city) is marked by a red quarter-circle, which is an easy way to check each map’s orientation and scale. Monterrey was founded in 1596. The earliest map in our series, for 1765, shows that, even by that date, Monterrey was still a relatively small settlement situated between a (seasonally dry) “stream formed by various springs” (to the top of the map, north) and the seasonally-dry “Monterrey River” (now called the Santa Catarina River). The Barrio Antiguo is shown as mostly an empty area, with only one major construction.

Monterrey 1765

Monterrey 1765

Very little has changed by 1791 (see map below: note that this map is oriented south-upwards), though the Barrio Antiguo has now been developed, and is shows as having several streets in a clear grid pattern:


Monterrey in 1791

The grid pattern for Barrio Antiguo is equally evident in the details of the map in 1846:


Monterrey in 1846

As of 1846, no development is shown on the south bank of the Santa Catarina River, though tracks are shown heading east and south-east respectively from the city. The next map, for 1865, shows that the city is beginning to expand to the south. A substantial settlement is developing on the south bank, more of less opposite the Barrio Antiguo. Note, though, that this map shows only part of the city:


Monterrey in 1865

Clearly, Monterrey only emerged as a real city after the colonial period which ended in 1821. The relatively small city did not experience real growth until late in the 19th century when it became connected by railroad and started to attract industrial development.

Early in the 20th century, investors built the then largest iron and steel works in Latin America a few kilometers east of the city center. Many related industries located nearby. These industries and the railroad, which ran east–west about four kilometers (2.5 mi) north of the city center, stimulated early industrial development in these directions. Developers established low income housing tracts for industrial and other workers on the east, north and west periphery of the city. Neighborhoods for the wealthier classes were developed south of the city center.

By 1933, Monterrey has grown significantly in area, especially towards the north:


The city of Monterrey in 1933

Between 1933 and 1947, the city continues to expand, with many areas being infilled with residences:


The city of Monterrey in 1947

The city experienced another surge of industrialization and immigration in the 1950s and 1960s. Industrial development continued after 1970 when the national government implemented policies to shift development away from Mexico City. Monterrey became a major producer of steel, metal fabrication, cement, beverages, petrochemicals, food, telecommunications, auto parts, glass, and house furnishings. It also developed into a major financial center and one of the wealthiest and most progressive cities in the country.

Low income housing became a serious problem after the 1960s as the inner city tenements became extremely crowded. The government was not sympathetic to irregular housing schemes, so low income groups established numerous illegal squatter settlements on vacant land near the industrial zone. Government made a few efforts to remove these, but most survived and eventually became regularized.

The high status sector expanded south-west into San Pedro Garza García, which became one of the wealthiest municipalities in Mexico. The high overall income and wages in the city meant that many workers could afford home ownership and private automobiles. As a result, many gated communities (large and small) and suburban shopping malls were built around the urban periphery. The urban area became relatively fragmented with many low income residential zones located near high income areas.

Source of the maps used in this post:

Other posts about the urban geography of Mexico’s cities:

Why is northern Mexico a desert region?

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Oct 102013

Much of northern Mexico experiences either an arid (desert) climate (less than 250 mm [10 in] of rain/year) or a semiarid (semi-desert) climate (250–750 mm [10–30 in] of rain/year). Areas with an arid (desert) climate (see map) include most of Baja California and western Sonora (together comprising the Sonoran desert), as well as the northern section of the Central Plateau (the Chihuahuan desert). These areas can experience frost and freezing during the winter.

Major climate regions in Mexico. (Fig 4-5 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico). All rights reserved.

Major climate regions in Mexico. (Fig 4-5 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico). All rights reserved.

Areas of semiarid (dry steppe) climate include most of the Central Plateau as well as western sections of the Western Sierra Madre, northern Yucatán and scattered inland areas as far south as Oaxaca. The rains in this region fall mostly in the summer, and localized heavy thunderstorms are quite common. The southern parts of this climatic region are warmer than the northern parts. (Mexico’s seven climate regions)

Why do parts of northern Mexico receive very little precipitation, making them deserts?

The major reason is that the zone between the Tropic of Cancer (latitude 23.5 degrees N) and latitude 30 degrees N is influenced by the Hadley Cell. This is the name given to the atmospheric circulation in tropical regions, named after George Hadley, the English amateur meteorologist who first proposed its existence, in 1735.

The Hadley Cell

The functioning of the Hadley Cell

The Hadley Cell is the driving force behind many aspects of Mexico’s weather and climate. How does it operate? Solar heating is at a maximum near the equator and diminishes towards the poles. The area near the equator is the Intertropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ (see diagram). The heating of the ITCZ makes the air there rise, leaving an area of low pressure on the surface. This low pressure sucks in air along the earth’s surface from the subtropical high pressure areas about 30 degrees N and S of the equator creating the trade winds. The trade winds pick up moisture and latent heat over the oceans before converging from either side of the equator in the ITCZ. As the air in the ITCZ rises vertically, its water vapor condenses and rain falls from the towering convective clouds. This is the ascending limb of the Hadley cell. At a height of 10–15 km above the surface, the air, now minus its moisture, returns polewards as high level anti-trade winds. Sunbathers on Mexican beaches who notice two sets of clouds above them at different heights traveling in opposite directions are witnessing the trade winds and anti-trade winds in action.

In the subtropics, this air then descends again towards the surface to complete the cell and initiates the surface trade winds again. The descending air warms up as it sinks; its relative humidity decreases, and so no precipitation occurs; hence these high pressure subtropical areas are arid. Mexico’s arid and semiarid areas coincide with the descending air segment of the Hadley Cell and these high pressure subtropical areas.

In addition, the climate of the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula is influenced by the cool Californian current, which flows towards the south. The relative humidity of the air above it drops as the current enters warmer waters, so it is not likely to bring rain to the peninsula.

The aridity of the Sonoran desert is also partly due to its position in the rain shadow of the Western Sierra Madre. The Chihuahuan desert is in an even more marked rain shadow, protected by both the Western Sierra Madre and the Eastern Sierra Madre.

Stunning stream patterns in northern Baja California

Photographer Adriana Franco from Querétaro has taken several truly stunning artistic images of stream patterns in the semi-arid region of northern Baja California (near Mexicali). The photos, taken from an ultralight, show the details of the dendritic (= tree-like) stream patterns in this region. Dendritic stream patterns are common worldwide, but these images are exceptional. In general, dendritic stream patterns are associated with relatively gentle gradients where the underlying rocks are similar throughout the drainage basin.

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How globalized is Mexico?

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Aug 192013

What exactly is globalization?

Globalization can be defined in simple terms as “the process by which events, activities and decisions in one part of the world can have significant consequences for communities in distant parts of the globe.” [Peter Haggett in his Geography (A Global Synthesis), Pearson Education Limited, 2001]. Though globalization began centuries ago with colonial conquests and trade, it has only gained widespread attention in the past few decades.

Globalization is a highly contentious issue. There are major debates as to whether globalization brings more benefits than problems. While many international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are pro-globalization, many individuals and sectors of society remain deeply skeptical, and a powerful anti-globalization movement has arisen in some parts of the world.

How globalized is Mexico?

Several attempts have been made to quantify globalization. In this section we compare two indices which look at how globalized Mexico is compared to other countries.

The KOF Index of Globalization measures three main dimensions of globalization: economic, social and political. Economic globalization considers the long distance flows (exports, imports) of goods, capital and services, as well as political restrictions (tariffs, taxes) to these flows. Social globalization measures the international spread of ideas, information (telephone traffic, internet access) and people (migration, tourism). Several small European countries score well on these first two measures. Political globalization examines the number of embassies a country has, as well as its membership of international organizations and participation in UN peace missions. European countries occupy the first seven places on this dimension. Based on the indices for these three dimensions, an overall index of globalization is calculated.

The 2009 KOF Index used data from 2006 to rank 208 countries. Mexico placed 65th overall, with rankings of 79th for economic, 69th for social, and 80th for political globalization. By comparison, Russia ranked 61st, Argentina 63rd, Brazil 79th, China 91st, Indonesia 100th and India 122nd.

The A.T. Kearney Globalization Index has four main components: economic integration (trade, foreign direct investment), personal contact (telecommunications, travel, remittances), technological connectivity (internet) and political engagement (international treaties, organizations and peacekeeping). The 2006 index ranked 62 countries. Mexico placed 42nd overall, with ranks of between 36 and 41 for each of the four components. For comparison, Russia ranked 47th, Argentina 43rd, Brazil 52nd, China 51st, Indonesia 60th and India 61st.

In Mexico’s case, these two globalization indices give broadly similar results. The data suggest that Mexico is relatively globalized compared to other large emerging countries. However, in the case of the USA, the different methodologies of the two indices produce very different results. The KOF index ranks the USA as 38th out of 208, with rankings of 59th for economic, 56th for social and 9th for political globalization respectively. The A.T. Kearney index places the USA 3rd out of 62 countries, despite its ranks for separate components of 58th for economic, 40th for personal, 1st for technological and 41st for political globalization. The differences between the indices indicate the difficulty of quantifying globalization.

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Mexico’s seven climate regions

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Aug 152013

Climatologists have developed several scientific systems to classify climates. The system developed by Wladimir Köppen in the early 20th century is one of the earliest and best known. The Köppen climate classification system assumes that climate is best reflected in native vegetation and can be accurately classified using seasonal variations in temperatures and precipitation. Mexican climatologists, including Enriqueta García, have proposed minor modifications to the Köppen system to make it more appropriate for Mexico. The following paragraphs reflect García’s revised Köppen system.

Given that Mexico has many mountains with rapid changes in elevation, temperature and rainfall, applying the Köppen system, even as modified by García, to Mexico can become extremely complicated. A relatively small area of Mexico may include several Köppen climate categories. Aggregating these areas provides a less complicated, more understandable, picture of Mexico’s climates (see map). In this scheme, Mexico has seven main climate regions, as shown on the map:

Major climate regions in Mexico. (Fig 4-5 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico). All rights reserved.

Major climate regions in Mexico. (Fig 4-5 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico). All rights reserved.

Two tropical climates

Mexico has two tropical climates which have average temperatures of over 18°C (64°F) for all twelve months of the year.

The first, tropical wet (Af in the Köppen system, see map), has at least 60 mm (2.4 in) of rain in every month of the year. This is the climate of the Amazon and Indonesian rainforests. In Mexico this is the climate of the Gulf Coast Plain in southern Veracruz and Tabasco (classic tierra caliente areas). It also occurs in the Oaxaca and Chiapas highlands. The rains fall all year, varying from about 120–150 mm (4–5 in) in April to 380 mm (15 in) in September.

The tropical wet-and-dry (Aw) category (see the climate graph for Cancún) has a pronounced dry season. The dry winter months typically get less than 40 mm (1 in) of rain, compared to over 150 mm (6 in) in each of the summer months. Parts of West Africa, Brazil and India have a similar climate. Much of coastal Mexico, stretching from Nayarit along the Pacific coast all the way to Guatemala, is in this category. It also covers many inland areas along the Pacific coast. Central and northern Veracruz and most of the Yucatán Peninsula also have this tropical climate with summer rains.

Climate graphs for three cities. (Fig 4.6 of Geo-Mexico,)

Climate graphs for three cities. (Fig 4.6 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico) All rights reserved.

Two dry climates

Areas with an arid (desert) climate (BW) usually receive less than 250 mm (10 in) of rain a year (see climate graph for Ciudad Juárez). This is the climate of the Sahara Desert and Central Australia. In Mexico dry desert areas include most of Baja California, western Sonora, and the northern section of the Central Plateau. These areas can experience frost and freezing during the winter.

Areas with the second type of arid climate, semiarid (dry steppe) (BS), receive 250–750 mm (10–30 in) of rain a year. This is the climate of the African savanna lands and much of central Asia. In Mexico, this climate region includes most of the Central Plateau as well as western sections of the Western Sierra Madre, northern Yucatán and scattered inland areas as far south as Oaxaca. The rains in this region fall mostly in the summer, and localized heavy thunderstorms are quite common. The southern parts of this climatic region are warmer than the northern parts.

Three temperate zones

Temperate climates typically have average temperatures above 10°C (50°F) in their warmest months, and a coldest month average between 3°C and 18°C (27–64°F). Moisture characteristics distinguish between the three temperate climates.

The temperate with dry winters climate (Cw) is characterized by mild temperatures, low humidity, and summer rainfall ranging from about 600 to 1200 mm (25–45 in) per year (see climate graph for Guadalajara). This is classic tierra templada country. The low nighttime temperatures in winter are typically around 5°C (41°F). Of course, higher elevations have lower temperatures with occasional frost. The highest temperatures usually reach about 35°C (95°F), though temperatures may reach as high as 40°C (104°F). This climate is similar to that of the Kenyan Highlands. In Mexico, this climate includes parts of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, most of the Western Sierra Madre and many mountainous areas in western, central and southern Mexico. Most of the Volcanic Axis is in this temperate with dry winters zone. Here, the major control as far as temperatures are concerned is altitude, which directly affects precise rainfall amounts and seasonality, resulting in a mosaic of microclimates and natural vegetation regions.

Compared with the temperate with dry winters climate, the humid subtropical (Cf) zone gets more rainfall, is more humid and gets rain throughout the year. The only areas of Mexico with this climate are the eastern slopes of the Eastern Sierra Madre and some parts of the southern mountain systems.

The Mediterranean climate (Cs) is the mild climate associated with Europe’s Mediterranean coast as well as the California coast. The area around Tijuana is the only part of Mexico with this type of climate. This area is relatively arid and gets less than 400 mm (15 in) of rain a year; it is unique in Mexico, being the only place that is dry in summer and gets rain only in winter.

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Does tourism in Acapulco match Butler’s resort cycle model?

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Does tourism in Acapulco match Butler’s resort cycle model?
Aug 082013

Butler’s resort cycle model applied to Acapulco

Butler’s model (see graphic below) describes the evolution of a tourist resort. His model, similar to a product life cycle model, is quite a good fit with the evolution of Acapulco, a traditional resort which evolved over several decades.

Butler's Model applied to Acapulco (Geo-Mexico Fig 19.7; all rights reserved)

Butler’s Model applied to Acapulco (Geo-Mexico Fig 19.7; all rights reserved)

The model would not be expected to work as well with resorts such as Cancún and Huatulco, which were planned from the start and developed rapidly with the infusion of millions of dollars of federal funds.

In the case of planned resorts, the stages of exploration and involvement are unlikely to apply. The adapted model for such places might perhaps start at the development phase.

Reference for Butler’s Model:

Butler, R.W. 1980. The Concept of the tourist area cycle of evolution: Implications for management of resources. Canadian Geographer 24 (1): 5‑12.

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Aug 012013

Acapulco was Mexico’s first major resort. Overlooking the Pacific, Acapulco had been fashionable among wealthy Mexicans since the 1920s. The first road from Mexico City to Acapulco opened in 1927; this became a four-lane highway in the 1955 and is now a toll super-highway.

Acapulco, Mexico's first major resort. Photograph by Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Acapulco, Mexico’s first major resort (Tony Burton; all rights reserved)

The development of Acapulco during the 1940s and 1950s, with new roads, hotels and an airport, provided alternative employment for peasants who had left their land, and helped to reduce the flow of migrants out of the poverty-stricken state of Guerrero. Some viewed Acapulco as a growth pole for further coastal development, but most other coastal towns continued to lag behind for decades. By the 1950s, it had become the playground for Hollywood’s jet set, the world’s first major resort to rely mainly on tourists arriving by air. In the 1960s, Acapulco’s city center was redeveloped and a new airport was built inland.

Acapulco began a prolonged period of stagnation during the 1970s, struggling to cope with urban growth, the provision of adequate urban services and air and water pollution. In the past decade, it has turned things around based on a series of major gated hotel developments that overcome visitors’ security concerns.

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Jul 242013

The map below shows a regional division of Mexico by precipitation regime (the amount and seasonal distribution of precipitation). The small graph for each region shows the typical average precipitation amounts for each month of the year. (For example, region A has most precipitation in the first three or four months of the year, and very little after that). The map comes from Ernesto Jáuregai’s 1970 article about wind and water erosion in Mexico (full reference is given below).

Precipitation regimes in Mexico (Fig 2 of Jáuregai 1970)

Precipitation regimes in Mexico (Fig 2 of Jáuregai 1970)

It is clear from the map that the distribution of precipitation across Mexico is very uneven. In general the north and central plateaus are dry while the southeast receives by far the most rain. Parts of Tabasco, Northern Chiapas and Veracruz get over 4000 mm (160 in) of rain a year. This is a direct effect of the onshore north-east trade winds, which collect moisture as they cross the Gulf of Mexico and then deposit it as they reach land.

Average annual rainfall figures conceal great differences from one year to the next. In general, the variability of rainfall is indirectly proportional to the long-term average. This means that areas with low totals tend to experience high variability, greatly increasing their drought hazard.

The map also reveals that there is a marked seasonality to precipitation in almost all of Mexico, with a clear division into a wet and a dry season. Most places get almost all their rain between June and October, while January through May are dry months. Because most rainfall is in the summer months, about 71% of rainfall evaporates soon after falling. This figure can be even higher in urban areas. Only about 26% runs off into rivers and lakes, and 3% seeps down to recharge subterranean aquifers.

One apparent anomaly to the pattern shown on the map is that the extreme north-west corner of Baja California (region A) has a Mediterranean climate where summers are dry and most rain falls in winter. Elsewhere in Mexico winter months are relatively dry. Southern and central Mexico have markedly dry winters, receiving less than 5% of their annual precipitation totals in the first three months of the year. The northern half of Mexico and the eastern coastal strip, including the Yucatán peninsula, have slightly more balanced precipitation, receiving between 5 and 18% of annual totals between January and March.

Map reference:

Ernesto Jáuregai. 1970. “La erosión hidráulica y eólica en México y sus efectos en las estructuras hidráulicas y en los núcleos de población.” UNAM: Boletín del Instituto de Geografía, Vol III, pp 39-60.

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The three main causes of precipitation in Mexico

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Jul 222013

The three basic types of rainfall (convectional, orographic and cyclonic) all play a role in determining the amount and timing of precipitation in Mexico.

Why does it rain?

In Mexico, most precipitation falls as rain, though snowfalls are not uncommon in parts of northern Mexico or at the highest elevations where air temperatures are cooler. For precipitation to occur, the air must first acquire moisture. Warm air absorbs water through evaporation from nearby bodies of water and through evapotranspiration from plants. The amount of water the air holds compared to the maximum amount it can hold at that temperature is the relative humidity. If warm moist air rises, it will cool. As it cools, its relative humidity rises. If relative humidity reaches 100% and condensation nuclei (particles such as dust or contaminants) are present, then water vapor will condense out of the air to form clouds. As clouds develop, water molecules coalesce until individual drops are heavy enough to fall out of the cloud as precipitation. Ice crystals fall as snow, water falls as raindrops, frozen ice pellets fall as hail.

For precipitation to occur, the weight of the individual drops must be sufficient for the effects of gravity to overcome the upwards thrust of the surrounding air. In very unstable conditions where air is rising rapidly, individual raindrops must become much larger before they can fall out of the cloud. The largest raindrops will have traveled up and down inside the cloud repeatedly, gaining size, before they finally fall to the ground. The same principle applies to hailstorms which gather an additional layer of ice for every trip they make inside the cloud before falling.

Though Mexico is considered to be relatively arid, the country as a whole receives an average of about 760 mm (30 in) of rain per year. This is a considerable amount of precipitation, almost exactly the same amount as Toronto, and considerably more than the average for either Canada or the USA.

Annual precipitation in Mexico (Fig .4.3 of Geo-Mexico)

Annual precipitation in Mexico (Fig .4.3 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico) All rights reserved.

The three main causes of precipitation in Mexico

Convectional rain is associated with hot afternoons. During the morning, warm air near the surface collects great quantities of moisture. As temperatures increase towards mid-day, pockets of moist warm air are sent upwards, quickly leading to condensation and clouds. As the clouds continue to rise, they cool to the point where precipitation becomes inevitable. Afternoon and evening rain showers result, often heavy and accompanied by thunder and lightening. Convectional rain occurs throughout Mexico but is a summer phenomenon since this is the time of year when solar radiation and ground heating is at a maximum. The effects of convectional rain are enhanced by the presence at that time of year over southern Mexico of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a broad belt of generally rising air which migrates seasonally either side of the equator.

Orographic rainfall, the second type of rainfall, is associated with mountains. Mountains block the movement of clouds and force them to rise. This has a profound impact on precipitation. As the clouds rise, further condensation occurs and precipitation becomes extremely likely, as they cool to the point where they can no longer hold their moisture. Therefore, it rains a great deal on the windward or wet side of the range. By the time the air passes over the mountain range to the other side, it has lost much of its moisture. As it descends, it warms up and its relative humidity falls, so that there is little chance of any precipitation on the leeward side, known as the rain shadow.

For example, the summer north-east trade winds blow moist clouds from the Gulf of Mexico towards the Southern Sierra Madre and Chiapas Highlands. The eastern side of these mountains receives heavy rainfall. The mountain slopes in central Veracruz, eastern Oaxaca and parts of Chiapas have about 150 cloudy days and get about 2000 mm (80 in) of rain a year. However, the western slopes get only half as much rain and have only 90 cloudy days a year. Orographic precipitation sets virtually all the rainfall and snowfall records, even more than hurricanes. Tenango, Oaxaca is the rainiest place in Mexico; it receives about 5000 mm (16.4 ft) of rain each year. The orientation of mountain ranges is therefore critical to understanding precipitation patterns. The differences between windward and leeward sides of a mountain range can be very dramatic. For instance, El Chico and Pachuca in the state of Hidalgo are only 10 km apart but have 1500 and 400 mm of precipitation respectively each year.

The third type of rainfall is called cyclonic or frontal precipitation. This is the form of precipitation brought by the mid-latitude storms known as nortes, and the tropical storms that sometimes evolve into hurricanes. Nortes occur when the polar air behind a cold front displaces the warmer surface air, forcing it to rise as the cool air pushes its way underneath. At the surface, a sudden drop in temperature and the advent of cold winds marks the passage of the front, followed by several days of overcast skies with light rains or drizzle, onomatopoeically called chipichipis in some areas of Mexico.

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