Monday, October 15, 2012

Yucatán tourism continues to languish, after bold "Mayan effect" prophecies fail to materialize

Hotel owners worry, as occupancy rates remain stuck in the cellar

*Updates below*
Mérida, Yucatán -
Mayan astronomers could predict eclipses and celestial displays within seconds of the real event. Mayan mathematicians and architects designed enormous stone structures with a precision and accuracy astounding even to modern engineers, who rely upon CAD and the latest technology to assist them in their daily tasks. But those who predicted that in 2012 the mystery and majesty of El Mundo Maya would deliver a huge economic impetus to the entire Yucatán peninsula and its gateway capital of Mérida have seen their hopes dashed, to the disappointment of thousands who depend on tourism, the backbone of local commerce. A news service today calls it a veritable apocalypse for many in the industry.

According to some students of the subject, the Mayans predicted an apocalypse, too, in December 2012, which would mark the beginning of a new world order. Ground zero, perhaps, would be the ruins at Chichén Itzá. The state and municipal governments here, together with travel professionals and business leaders, almost unanimously agreed that this year would bring a huge influx of true believers from afar, pumping enormous cash into the local economy. But it hasn't worked out that way.

According to the Yucatán Tourism Council, 2012 has seen a modest 4.5% increase in tourist traffic, far below the projected boom. The Council's president told that "the Mayan promotional campaign began very late, and what we're seeing are certainly not the results we had hoped for."

"We're still far below 2008, when hotel occupancy averaged about 62%. Right now we're at about 56-57%. It's been a blow." Industry professionals concur that most hostelries cannot turn a profit without at least 50% occupancy.

But the Council president said that he's still holding out hope for the few days right before and after Dec. 21, the projected Mayan "end of the world" according to some soothsayers of antiquity.

A spokesperson for the Mexican Hotel Association in Yucatán agreed that "the local hotel situation is worrisome. There are at lest 50 properties belonging to chains which are for sale. You can find them easily on the internet. They range from small boutique hotels to some with more than 140 rooms. There are even four star properties which are selling out. With just two months to go before Dec. 21, reservations remain very low. I don't think there's really so much interest in the Mayan prophecies."

Mayan promotional efforts in Europe and the U.S., which began in earnest in January, didn't help much, according to the official. And the then local Secretary of Tourism got it wrong, too. In early 2012 he predicted an "exceptional year" for tourism, with large numbers of visitors and high hotel occupancy rates. None of it has yet materialized, with only about 75 days remaining in the year.

In her final state-of-the state address on Sept. 2, former governor Ivonne Ortega insisted that she had fulfilled her promise of converting Yucatán into one of Mexico's 10 most attractive tourist destinations. Some may question that claim, however, in a city and state plagued by huge debt, and the inability to pay even routine sovereign obligations as they come due.

This is not the first time the rosy predictions of local politicians have fallen short of the mark. The last city administration invested $1.75 million in a "free" Shakira concert in July 2011, which the then PRI mayor promised would have “national and international significance” for the entire state. If it did, many in this 500 year old capital of Yucatán are still looking for the proof. And in the sunny and sultry days of the peninsula's perpetual summer, where 48% yet subsist in poverty, it's very hard to find. Shakira – a $21 million peso ticket, but so little to show for it.

Dec. 20 - Don't worry, it will all still be here on Saturday
Dec. 17 - Cruise ship passenger traffic through Progreso fell more than 12% in 2012
Oct. 24 - Canadian realtor in Yucatán: foreigners with big bucks are a myth

A spendthrift Yucatán looks for cash anywhere, anyway
Mérida faces "environmental catastrophe," as trash piles up everywhere and residents fume
Yucatán state and municipal debt continue to rise, with predictable consequences for many
Yucatán has well-educated labor force, but offers one of Mexico's worst job markets
Yucatán's Public Debt: Mortgaging Future Generations?


  1. Up until 2 years ago I had never heard of Merida until I saw it on Househunter's International. Two guys from Oakville Ontario bought a house there. I did a lot of research and went for a visit a couple of months later, after being there for a week I bought a house there. I fell in love with Merida. I told my friends other people I knew and they had never heard of it either. I posted pics of Merida on my facebook and everybody was surprised this was Mexico. Merida needs to advertise more.

  2. Oh, worry not . . . Mérida's getting plenty of advertising these days. May not always be the type it wants, mind you, but nonetheless plenty of advertising. Read ALL the links above, and the links within them.