Effects of tourism on the economy, population and environment of Cancun, Mexico















Tourisms effects on the population dynamics of Cancun, Mexico



25 years ago, before Mexico realized the need for tourism to develop and sustain the economy; Cancun was a simple fishing village with a population of about 120 people. (Tibbetts, 2006) In 1970 after three years of study on the conditions, locations, and weather of the area it was decided by the Mexican government and other private investors and a computer to be the perfect location for a tourism center. It is viewed as a successful model for urban development and economic planning.

















Tourists walk along the beautiful, overcrowded beach front in Cancun.           


When the area was being built and developed there were many migrant construction workers brought to the Quintana Roo region. To feed all these workers the government of Mexico brought farmers in from the northern State of Sinaloa. (American University Case Study) The problem here was the soil in Cancun was not as prosperous as in Sinaloa. The rainfall was seasonal, and the groundwater near the coast could not be used for irrigation due to the high levels of chloride. As a result of all this these farmers became subsistence farmers and food had to be brought in from other parts of Mexico. There are some fruits and vegetables that are found locally, as well as poultry and eggs, but even today for the most part people consume food that was brought in.

The population of Cancun today sits at about 600,000 people. Most of the population is Mestizo, but just outside of the tourist setting there are many Mayans living in the jungle. In the entire south east region of the jungles there are 4 million Mayan speaking people. (Xel-Ha Mexico) What was once a nice getaway with hotels and resorts sitting next to Mayan ruins have now become so overrun by hotel sprawl that people have started to build southward toward the Riviera Maya and the Mayan ruins are forgotten and ignored. When Cancun first opened as a tourist location the idea was that it would be for the high-end, wealthy resort goers, who would rent a room for about $150-200 a night, and lead a luxurious vacation lifestyle. These tourists were expected to buy expensive souvenirs, jewelry, and rent impressive cars, charter fishing boats, and thus increase the economy of the area. Most tourists were attracted to Cancun because they knew that they could get cheap package deals. The plan to have the high end vacationers was quickly fading and the college student niche spring break markets was quickly becoming the reality of Cancun, where students could book their flight, hotel, and food all in one package, and spend very little in petty cash while on vacation.
















After Hurricane Wilma much of Cancun was destroyed, here this neighborhood is completely flooded, and littered with debris.


In the 2005 Hurricane Season consisting of Hurricane Dennis, Rita, and Katrina, there was also Hurricane Wilma which destroyed most of the waterfront property and further inland of Cancun and much of Mexico. Tourists became desperate to leave the area as they had been trapped in any shelter they could find for days.  In the summer of 2006 when Cancun had been rebuilt, and reborn Quintana Roo, the state in which Cancun is located, raised the prices to try to keep the young Spring Break crowd out, and bring back the families and adults that had been turned away in previous years. (Tibbetts, 2006) This plan was an attempt to return to the original idea and promote the economy that depended on tourists lavishly spending money.

Local population:

By bringing in the tourists, Cancun was supposed to encourage employment for the local population, but this is not the case. While there are many unskilled Mexican workers that come to Cancun to find jobs, especially ones where they interact with tourists hoping for tips and improving their language skills, most find jobs making the beds as maids, tending to the landscape as gardeners,  and picking up the trash. Many of these prestigious jobs went to foreigners who were already trained in foreign languages, and the art of dealing with tourists.  As a result many of these workers find residence in “irregular settlements” which are poorly constructed shelters built of plywood, tin, and sticks. (Weise, 2000) Disease is a huge problem for these peoples, as there is very little clean, drinkable water and practically no sewage system. Many of these unskilled workers turn to crime as an alternative form of making a living. (Weise, 2000)  Car jacking, drug dealing, theft, and prostitution have become common to the way of life to the locals in Cancun.



















Young men of Cancun working as “gardeners” at a local hotel.


This exposure to the different lifestyles from tourists has reduced the physiological and religious value for the local people, and caused changes in the traditions, clothing, and eating habits. The people of Cancun used to be simple fishing people with little impact from the outside world, but now they are constantly hit with large tourist waves which bring new people to adulterate their lifestyles. The social change between generations is vast as the young people have been turning their backs on their parents, and the traditional modest lifestyle to aspire to the magnificent routine of the foreigners in Cancun.  Many young Mexican men and women have also been known to travel to Cancun for the active night life of the bars and clubs.  The traditional norms and values have changed; this can be seen in the increase in criminal activity, the loss of historical artifacts to tourists by vendors trying to make a little extra money, the changes in the cultural landscape to the hotel strips and the ignorance toward the Mayan ruins visible all around.



"Cancun." American University Case Study. American University. 04 Apr. 2008 <http://www.american.edu/TED/cancun.htm>.

"History of Cancun." Xel-Ha Mexico. 2006. 06 Apr. 2008 <http://www.xel-ha-mexico.com>.

Lutz, Wolfgang, Leonel Prieto, and Warren Sanderson, comps. Population, Development, and Population, Development, and Environment on the Yucat´an Peninsula: From Ancient Maya to 2030. Vers. 14. July 2000. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. 05 Apr. 2008 <http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Publications/Documents/RR-00-014.pdf>.

Tibbetts, Christine. "Cancun Rebuilt, Reborn, After Hurricane." Travel Magazine 16 June 2006. 29 Mar. 2008 <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13098773/>.

Weise, Peter V., comp. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF URBAN AND INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT; a Case History: Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2000. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 04 Apr. 2008 <http://www.unesco.org/csi/wise/cancun1.htm>.