The Cancun-ization of Panama Tourism

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Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 25 September 2007 09:45
There's a dangerous phenomenon going on in Panama and that is the creation of what we'll call 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.
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 piña 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
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I like the article
written by Fernand , September 26, 2007
I like the article very much. You help us Panamenos to see what we have and to not make disaster of what we have. We thanks you very much and hopes to not get cancunization soon smilies/wink.gif jejeje
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So badly researched
written by Cancaun , September 30, 2007
Matt,
really don't know where you went to study journaslism.
My guess is "Nowhere" after reading you childish, little article.

As it goes, It is always easier to point out shortcomings of others to divert attention from oneself.
Panama, what a joke it is in itself.
The smallest stretch of land between north and south america, hence chosen by americans to cut a channel through it, ridden by corruption, lazy and incapable people and you as a writer buy into it.

And now you just bash what you are really want to copy.

All the luck to the good people of Panama, but unqualified scribblers like you should realy go back to the US and report about a bug eaten the foremost moron of your country.

A bug called ingnorance and the moron called bush.

A bit of advice from one journalist to the other:
Don't open your mouth about things you do not have the faintest idea about.


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So badly researched
written by Cancaun , September 30, 2007
Matt,
really don't know where you went to study journaslism.
My guess is "Nowhere" after reading you childish, little article.

As it goes, It is always easier to point out shortcomings of others to divert attention from oneself.
Panama, what a joke it is in itself.
The smallest stretch of land between north and south america, hence chosen by americans to cut a channel through it, ridden by corruption, lazy and incapable people and you as a writer buy into it.

And now you just bash what you are really want to copy.

All the luck to the good people of Panama, but unqualified scribblers like you should realy go back to the US and report about a bug eaten the foremost moron of your country.

A bug called ingnorance and the moron called bush.

A bit of advice from one journalist to the other:
Don't open your mouth about things you do not have the faintest idea about.


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Palacio de la Bahia dream is gone...
written by Carlito , September 30, 2007
Matt,

Panama will be worst than Cancun or some Florida cities one day due to overbuilding, Cancun still has nice, clean beaches and look at the Panama Bay polluted, with an terrible smell!!! Some of the new buildings are nice but the Panamenian citizens have no money to live on them, the maintenance fees are too high so they are moving to poorer neighbourhoods or to the countryside, the cost of living is skyrocketing, water, electricity bills, buses are uncomfortable, colombian hookers and pickpockets in every place you go, taxi drivers put your live at risk every day, traffic jams are driving people crazy.

What let me worried are the small salaries they get, the ads that never tells the truth about Panamenian problems, people who are not prepared to receive tourists some do not even speak English, lack of security in several cities, just look at the news, look what is happening in Nurum to the poor Indians, to people in Darien, Cocle with many suicides in the last years, in Chitre, Veraguas, floodings when there is too much rain, sewage all over. It seems that the country was created for the rich, powerful, for foreign retirees and it is not, the peacuful times are long gone, they will get restless, bored one day and they will leave Panama taking their money and investments, as they did in Costa Rica. Mexico and other countries.

Sorry but I am done, moving to another country before is too late.







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agree with second guy
written by Lovin Panama , September 30, 2007
the first comment is a guy who sounds seriously depressed. he sounds like he lost a lot of money in a real estate deal or something. matt, we think your article is a nice change from the ordinary BS that is so common on the internet. we´ know you´re not a journalist and we appreciate your easy style of writing and interesting opinions. if comment number 1 is a journalist himself, he can´t spell or do punctuation. we agree very much with comment number two. because of these sorts of things, we have lost interest in our beloved panama
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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 22:43