|Written by Matt|
|Tuesday, 25 September 2007 09:45|
tourism zones, or various pocket destinations meant exclusively for the visiting tourist. What's risky about these zones is that by focusing solely on outsiders (thus turning your back on locals) there is the tendency for a vulgar underbelly to arise. A process I refer to as Cancunization.
There's a dangerous phenomenon going on in Panama and that is the creation of what we'll call |
Cancunization is quite a common theme nowadays in developing countries: build a bubble-like zone with enough food, booze, and entertainment so that tourists don't have to leave the premises.
In developing countries, large income gaps often mean that these tourism zones become surrounded by not-so-savory neighborhoods. This happens especially when tourism zones are created in remote or isolated areas. White sand beaches, ice cold beers, and fancy pool fountains sharply contrast the nearby barrios where crime, poverty, and corruption can have disastrous effects on the fabric of a nation.
Cancun, Mexico is the perfect example of tourism zone gone wild, thus my brilliant new term which should be coming to a Webster's Dictionary near you soon: Cancun-ization. The government built the necessary infrastructure on a remote island and when hotels began to pop up, a small town developed, composed of Cancun tourism employees. Problem was, locals were uneducated, untrained (to work in luxury resorts) and ill-compensated, all of which resulted in seriously ugly consequences.
It can be helpful to note the similarities in the decline of Cancun with the present and future of tourism in our beloved Panama:
The Mexican government set out to make a tourism destination from scratch, but they lacked the long-term planning and cultural impact of such drastic promotional measures. They hoped that Cancun tourism would bring jobs to the poor Mayan Indians of Quintana Roo state. However instead of training these locals, the top hotel jobs in the zone went to people from the city who flocked to the resort, leaving the most undesirable ones to the Mayans. Jobs like handyman, maid, prep cook, guy who folds bathroom toilet paper into cute triangle before you arrive.
However, the possibility of any work at all still drew a large crowd who congregated and lived in shantytown-like grids just off the premises. Soon enough, with low security, low education levels, and low salaries, crime and drug trafficking started to become issues in these barrios. All the while, the economic success of Cancun tourism encouraged the Mexican government to help develop similar destinations (including the super-trendy Cabo San Lucas).
The money was surely rolling into Cancun, but it was getting filtered not into the heart of society but rather to the few elite owners, developers, and promoters at the top. While many of these elite were in fact Mexican (meaning the money was staying in the country), the profits from Cancun as a mega-tourism destination was totally filtered away from middle class locals. Because locals were not making enough in their legal jobs, they turned to other means...
Around this time, sex tourism reared its horny little head. Prostitution became common and fairly widespread as did its humble sidekick, sexual diseases transmitted between locals in the villages and vacationers looking for "la experiencia de Mexico". Cases of child pornography and pedophilia became more and more frequent as did the seemingly innocuous "massage parlors". Strip clubs, brothels, and street whores started to form the makeup of Cancun culture, both socially and economically speaking.
Political unrest and corruption were overlooked because, well, the hotels were full all the time and guests were having a great time downing all-you-can eat shrimp bars and foot-long piÃ±a coladas. The Cancun on the cover of travel magazines though did not represent the town of Cancun's inherent lack of organization.
As the dust and dregs of the town began to seep into the tourism zone, Cancun saw several tourist-related murders, augmented petty crime, and numerous cases of police sleaze. Vacationers realized that the glitzy resorts were not that spectacular, at least nothing they couldn't get somewhere else a little bit more safe. And alas, Cancun started its descent as quickly and senselessly as it began. I think it was Sam T. who said, "another Central America tourism destination is really only one click away."
It becomes clear that without the proper planning and without the devotion to some sort of authentic tourism destination (as addressed by the esteemed Casey Halloran who is my friend and majan tournament partner, in this year's annual AMCHAM tourism event), travelers and investors will have no problem going elsewhere. There are far too many white sand beaches and teeming rainforests in this continent for IPAT to think this will be a runaway victory. While the resorts may look shiny and the gringos might be smiling for the time being, Cancunization has the ability to divide and destroy a culture by way of social asymmetry.
So what do we do now? Find out in Casey's Panama Tourism Manifesto
Sources: Chris Hawley, Republic Mexico City Bureau, East Carolina University : East Fifth Street, Greenville
|Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 22:43|