Mar 212016

Cancún International Airport (CUN) has opened a new terminal, Terminal 3. The airport is the nation’s busiest for international traffic and second only to Mexico City for national traffic. The airport served a total of more than 19 million passengers in 2015, 11% more than the previous year.

The new 60-million-dollar, state-of-the-art Terminal 3 is exclusively for international passengers, and increases operating capacity by 4 million passenger movements a year. An additional terminal, Terminal 4, is scheduled to open in 2017.

New terminal at Cancun airport

New terminal at Cancun airport

According to federal officials, airport investments in the first three years of the current administration have exceeded 1.8 billion dollars. This has triggered the addition of 260 national and 186 international air routes. Passenger movements in the past three years have risen 33% (to 73 million), while air freight has grown 17%.

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Beach replenishment needed in Quintana Roo

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Beach replenishment needed in Quintana Roo
Mar 022015

Officials in Quintana Roo claim that beach replenishment in the state requires the investment of at least 500 million pesos (about 35 million dollars) in the next few years, and are asking for federal help.

After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, many beaches in Quintana Roo were badly damaged. Following the hurricane, initial beach restoration efforts were funded by the federal Tourism Secretariat, with maintenance then passed over to local (municipal) authorities and the state government. The restoration program included the planting of more than 8,000 palm trees in an effort to help stabilize the coast. However, storms in late 2014 caused considerable damage to beaches, especially the Gaviota Azul beach in Punta Cancún, prompting tourism representatives to call for renewed investment in restoration.

State officials have singled out five areas where the beaches are of particular concern:

  • Cancún
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Cozumel
  • Holbox Island

Quintana Roo has budgeted 5 million pesos in this year’s budget to complete the five Environmental Impact studies needed prior to applying for federal funding.

In related news, four Quintana Roo towns have applied for Magic Town status:

  • Tulum
  • Holbox
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Felipe Carrillo Puerto

Quintana Roo currently has only one Magic Town: Bacalar.

The Tourism Secretariat has previously announced that it plans to add 17 towns to the list this year, bringing the total by year-end to 100. Towns that have applied for Magic Town status will be evaluated in June this year, with decisions expected to be announced in July. Given the number of towns submitting applications, some locations are clearly going to be disappointed in this round of nominations.

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Tourist numbers for Cancún, 2000-2014

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Tourist numbers for Cancún, 2000-2014
Jan 212015

The table shows the number of tourists (national and international) visiting Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2000-2013.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

From 2000 until 2011, tourist numbers fluctuated between 2.8 and 3.3 million. Since 2011, tourist numbers have risen sharply, to 3.6 million in 2012, 4.1 million in 2013 and a preliminary estimate of 4.3 million for 2014.

YearNumber of touristsYearNumber of tourists
20003 043 00020083 265 591
20012 986 00020092 878 811
20022 826 00020103 015 690
2003n/a20113 115 177
2004n/a20123 642 449
20053 072 00020134 093 942
2006n/a20144 300 000 (estimate)
20073 004 8022015?

Cancún currently has more than 3000 condominium units and more than 35,000 hotel rooms. According to the first draft of the Programa de Desarrollo Urbano del Centro de Población Cancún 2014-2030, the city could have as many as 46,000 hotel rooms by 2030.

This projection is well below the earlier estimate, made in 2013, of 64,000 rooms by 2030, but the new figure is claimed to be more in line with planned improvements to local water supply. The development of Cancún has often been criticized for paying insufficient attention to considerations of urban density, water supply and environmental impacts.

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The resort city of Cancún continues to grow

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The resort city of Cancún continues to grow
Apr 232014

The resort of Cancún in Quintana Roo is celebrating its 44th birthday this year. Local officials have arranged a series of events between 19 and 27 April, including an exhibition of vintage cars, to mark the occasion.

The construction of the purpose-built resort Cancún, planned by the Federal Tourism Development Agency FONATUR, began in 1970:

The tourist part of the city has thrived. Cancún now has more than 3000 condominium units, luxury shopping centers, restaurants, museums, discos, bars, an international airport and more than 150 hotels, with 35,087 hotel rooms.

In 2013, some 14 million visitors passed through the airport. Hotels had a profitable 2013, with an average room occupancy of 77.2%. Visitors to Cancún contributed an estimated 4.36 billion dollars to the local economy. Tourism provides direct employment in Cancún for around 52,600 people, and indirect employment for 175,000.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

There is a less rosy side to Cancún. Besides the obvious adverse impacts of so many tourists, there are many other issues arising from the extraordinarily rapid growth of tourism in this area. For example, see Beach erosion in the tourist resort of Cancún, Mexico.

For a fuller discussion of the issues associated with 40 years of tourist development in Cancún, see “Ending a Touristic Destination in Four Decades: Cancun’s Creation, Peak and Agony“, which appeared in a 2013 special issue of the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science.

Tourism aside, perhaps the biggest single issue is in the “regular” city of Cancún (as opposed to the tourist zone). Cancún city (2010 population: 628,000, but sometimes claimed now to be more like 800,000) is where most supporting services are located, and most workers live. The city has grown so fast that it lacks sufficient services and fails to offer a good quality of life for its residents.

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Mexico’s tourist industry plans to increase tourist expenditures

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Mexico’s tourist industry plans to increase tourist expenditures
Mar 022013

The tourism and travel industry in Mexico accounts for about 13% of GDP. Speaking last month at the XI National Tourism Forum in the resort city of Cancún, Mexico’s Tourism Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu outlined the National Tourism Strategy 2013-2018. The new plan places more emphasis on increasing the average expenditures of tourists than on boosting total visitor numbers. It aims to revive the appeal and occupancy rates of existing destinations, rather than adding new resorts, and to diversify tourist attractions through programs such as Magic Towns and routes catering to specific interests such as Mexican cuisine. Other objectives include improved airline connectivity and simplified border crossing procedures.

Tourist spending in Mexico rose to 12.72 billion dollars in 2012, 7.17% more than in 2011, but visitor numbers fell by about 1%. The World Tourism Organization ranked Mexico as the 13th most visited country in the world in 2012, a significant drop from the 10th place it had occupied for several years.

cancun-40-yearsCancún has added a major tourist attraction with the opening last year of the Mayan Museum of Cancún in the city’s Hotel Zone. The museum replaces the former Mayan Museum closed in 2005 following damage from Hurricane Wilma. Built by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) at a cost of $15 million, the museum is that organization’s largest single project for some 30 years. It houses 3500 archaeological pieces, 350 of which are on permanent display, and is expected to attract up to a million visitors a year. Adjacent to the museum is the archaeological site of San Miguelito, the most important Mayan settlement on Cancún Island, also now open to the public.

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Ecological footprints, marine conservation and Cancun’s underwater sculpture park

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Ecological footprints, marine conservation and Cancun’s underwater sculpture park
Feb 112013

The Global Ocean Commission, a new, high-level international effort to try to stave off eco-disaster in the world’s oceans, is being launched tomorrow in London, U.K.. Headed by former UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, former South African finance minister Trevor Manuel, and José María Figueres, a former president of Costa Rica, the Commission will promote international efforts to ensure the effective governance of international waters, and agreements governing such activities as deep sea fishing, pirate fishing, sea-floor mining and geo-engineering, all considered to be potential threats to the long-term viability of ocean ecosystems.

Miliband is quoted as saying that “We are living as if there are three or four planets instead of one, and you can’t get away with that.” Actually, the ecological footprint of the USA, as one example, is much closer to ten “global hectares per person” than three or four. (Each global hectare encompasses the average annual productivity of all biologically productive land and ocean areas in the world). The world’s biocapacity—the amount of resources its ecosystems can supply each year—is only equivalent to about 2 global hectares per person, a value that is declining each year as population increases (see Mexico’s ecological footprint compared to that of other countries).

2002 Postage Stamp: reef conservation

2002 Postage Stamp: reef conservation

Mexico is one of the six most biodiverse countries in the world. While it has taken many steps to protect its marine resources, by enacting legistlaiton establishing fishing restrictions and protected areas, much remains to be done. Mexico’s coral reefs are particularly vulnerable. For example, the Cancún Marine Park is one of the most visited stretches of water in the world with over 750,000 visitors each year, placing immense pressure on its resources. We described one unusual conservation effort related to this area in “Artificial reef near Cancún doubles as an underwater art gallery” [Mar 2012] which looked at the work of Artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who created an underwater sculpture park, the Underwater Art Museum (Museo Subaquatico de Arte, MUSA), near Cancún.

The museum, begun in 2009, currently consists of more than 450 permanent life-size sculptures set in the waters surrounding Cancún, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc. Taylor is adding sixty additional underwater sculptures to the park, many of them modeled after local residents. This underwater museum is both attractive and functional, providing new habitat for coral and other marine life, as well as diverting snorkelers and divers away from fragile coral reefs, allowing them more chance to recover from the impacts of overuse.

Dec 062010

Cancún is Mexico’s premier tourist destination, attracting more than 3 million visitors a year. A recent Associated Press report by Mark Stevenson highlights the problems faced by the resort due to the erosion of its beaches.

Cancún was developed on formerly uninhabited barrier islands on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. The islands were low-lying sand bars, held together by beach vines and the dense, interlocking roots of coastal mangroves. Hurricanes periodically swept over these small islands blowing loose sand towards the beaches on the mainland. Despite the occasional hurricane, the sandbars survived more or less unscathed until construction of Cancún, Mexico’s first purpose-built tourist resort, began in 1970.

As Cancún has grown, so the damage from hurricanes has become more serious. Category 4 Wilma in 2005 was especially destructive.

Cancún beach erosion

Cancún beach erosion. Photo: Dario Lopez-Mills/AP

Why has hurricane damage increased since 1970? Several factors are thought to play in a part in causing the increased rate of erosion of Cancún’s beaches in recent years:

  • hotels have been built too close to the shore, and too many are high-rise buildings. High-rise hotels deflect some of the wind downwards towards the ground. These wind eddies can stir up any dry surface sand in a process known as deflation.
  • hotels are too heavy. The sheer weight of high-rise hotels compacts the largely unconsolidated sediments beneath them, rendering the sediments less able to store or absorb excess water, and more liable to subsidence and structural problems. Extra weight also increases the load on slopes and leads to a higher incidence of slope failure.
  • coastal mangroves have been destroyed, removing their ability to protect the shoreline during storm events.
  • most beaches have been stripped of their original vegetation. The original beaches were protected by various adventitious vines which were quick to colonize bare sand. They would simultaneously help hold the sand in place, protecting it from wind action, and gradually add to the organic content of beaches to a point where they could support other, larger plants. Native vegetation has been mercilessly eradicated from Cancún’s beaches to create the tourism “ideal” of uninterrupted swathes of white sand.

It also appears that hurricanes and other tropical storms have become more frequent in recent decades, perhaps as a consequence of global climate change. The situation has also been exacerbated by the gradually rising sea level. Sea level on this coast is rising at about 2.2 mm/y.

Why have some of the efforts made to mitigate the beach erosion only made the situation even worse?

Following strong hurricanes (such as Wilma in 2005) Cancún has lost most of its beaches. The first attempt at beach restoration in 2006 cost 19 million dollars. In 2009, an even costlier (70 million dollar) beach restoration was carried out, using sand dredged from offshore. In one sense, the project was a resounding success. A new beach up to 60 meters wide, was created along some 10 km of coastline.

However, this new beach came at a considerable ecological cost. The pumping of sand from offshore disturbed the seafloor and damaged sealife, including populations of octupus and sea cucumbers. Fine sediments raised by the pumping traveled in suspension to nearby coral reefs, where it also had deleterious impacts.

In addition, the new beach is already being eroded away (some estimates are that up to 8% of the new sand has already been washed or blown away), so presumably if Cancún’s beaches are to be maintained in the future, beach restoration will have to become a regular event.

One hotel erected a breakwater or groyne on its beach to retain all the sand being carried along the coast by the process of longshore drift. The Associate Press article ends with a wonderful story of how the beach in front of this particular hotel was cordoned off by marines last year on the grounds that it was stolen property.

Link to 2013 news article: A fortune made of sand: How climate change is destroying Cancun

Tourism is one of Mexico’s major sources of revenue. But tourism, especially high-rise mass tourism such as that characterized by Cancún, comes with a hefty price tag. Policy-makers need to decide whether this price tag, which will only rise further in the future as we continue to damage our natural environment, is really one that is worth the cost.

Chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico looks in much more detail at Mexico’s purpose-built resorts as well as many other  aspects of tourism, resorts and hotels  in Mexico. Chapter 30 focuses on environmental issues and trends. Buy your copy today!

Feb 132010

Mexico’s mass tourism industry in the past forty years has been dominated by large-scale, purpose-built developments partially funded by federal funds. In 1967, responding to bullish predictions of US demand for beach vacations,  Mexico’s central bank identified the five best places for completely new, purpose-built tourist resorts. Top of the list, as part of a 30-year plan, was the uninhabited barrier island now known as Cancún. The other choice locations were Ixtapa, Los Cabos, Loreto and Huatulco.

The National Fund for Tourism Infrastructure (renamed the National Tourism Development Fund, Fonatur, in 1974) began building Cancún in 1970 and Ixtapa in 1971.

Cancún has become Mexico’s foremost tourist resort. Factors considered in the choice of Cancún included water temperatures, the quality of beaches, varied attractions, sunshine hours and travel distances from the main markets. The stated benefits were thousands of new jobs, increased revenues, the development of a previously peripheral region and the diversification of the national economy.

Public funds were used to purchase land, improve it by fumigation and drainage, and install all necessary basic infrastructure (airport, highways, potable water, electricity, telephone lines, convention center, golf course, harbors). Private sector investors developed hotels, a shopping center and supporting services.

By 1975, Cancún had 1769 rooms in service; by 2008, it boasted about 150 hotels and more than 27,000 rooms. Second only to Mexico City, Cancún airport now handles 200 flights a day. The influx of people to Cancún has been especially dramatic. The city has had to cope with unprecedented growth rates as its population shot up from 30,000 in 1980 to 676,238 in 2010 (preliminary census figure) (see graph).

The number of tourists in Cancún dipped slightly in 2001–2002 due, in part, to the 2001 9/11 tragedy in the USA. Hurricane Wilma (2005) put many hotel rooms temporarily out of commission. Cancún is now only one focus of an extensive tourist corridor along the Quintana Roo coast, stretching as far south as Tulum.

Chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, from which this extract is taken, looks in much more detail at Mexico’s purpose-built resorts as well as many other  aspects of tourism, resorts and hotels  in Mexico.