Sunday, March 26, 2017

Repeating Patterns

I've noticed a trend in tourist destinations that makes me think of university lectures on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.   Everything starts out so promisingly:   A beautiful natural setting, perhaps a historic focal point.   Ideal or at least reasonable weather and costs that are much cheaper than back home.   The locals are natural and go about their daily lives, friendly but not obsequious to visitors.    In this situation early adopters benefit from unspoiled charm  but face some challenges in language and culture.  


1940's: The Isla Mujeres Runway

(by Cancun)

 This is the stage at which the reputation starts to arise.   Slowly at first, by word of mouth and then in a few travel blogs.   A few entrepreneurial types, seeing the possibilities,  provide some development to make access easier.  A road is paved, a bus route is changed, some English signs are put up.   This might be the best time to visit.   International developers haven't arrived; everything is still authentic.  There is likely the start of some price differentiation as locals become cognizant of the potential money arriving and start to differentiate pricing but there are no overwhelming changes.

Now, everything accelerates.   Sometimes a mention in a major travel magazine or television program starts the cascade.  A large scale developer (or two) comes to survey the location and  realizes the potential.   Local and regional governments are persuaded to provide infrastructure in exchange for future tax revenues.    Retail businesses selling jewellery and various high end products set up shop.   A cruise port, first with small tenders providing passage to the shore but plans for a terminal are initiated.   Condo developers buy up the shoreline.   Locals are at first worried and then dismayed. Inevitably, they move away as their own costs increase or become involved in servicing the visitors.   For some visitors this is the most pleasant time as the quiet village or town becomes more like home, but warmer and with tropical vegetation.   A Starbucks every few blocks, clean streets and English speaking shopkeepers.   New businesses price their goods and services perhaps ten  or twenty percent less than developed world prices so tourists feel their are still getting a 'good deal'.  Some serious travellers start to stay away;  too touristy.

Unfortunately, decline seems inevitable.   Traffic, pollution and congestion increases.   Too many packaged holidays are arriving.   Some of he country's citizens gravitate to the area where money can potentially be more easily earned than toiling in the fields or their local small businesses.  The tipping economy is well established and some visitors will pay you to open the door for them.   Too many shops and restaurants lead to frustration for the owners who by now are paying high rents.   Visitors are harangued and harassed as they walk through a shopping district.  Goods are overpriced and imported from an even cheaper country en masse.   Some clerks take advantage of tourists' unfamiliarity with the local currency and provide incorrect change from a purchase, always less, never more.   Pick pockets may arrive and local lowly paid police may find giving out traffic tickets and collecting bribes to rip them up from tourists who certainly can't stay for a court date a few months out, is a lucrative sideline.

The decline seems inevitable.  In the same way a reputation is built, it dissipates. Prior to the internet, it took take years before travel guides start to recommend avoiding the area.   People say that now about Acapulco -- full of drugs and crime.   It used to be the playground of celebrities.   You can probably name other destinations.   Maybe you visited somewhere in your youth but when you go back twenty years later, it has changed.   A victim of it's own success we say.   

Spring Break in Cancun 2014

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