|By Bob Retlaff, Post-Bulletin, Rochester,
Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 20, 2009 - Mexico largely through its government-sponsored tourism arm along with private developers has dramatically changed the face of tourism in that country.
While largely rural and still significantly dependent on oil revenues, the country's No. 2 economic engine is tourism, mainly through the development of a number of coastal luxury resorts.
Mexico brings in millions of visitors each year. While other nations are suffering from a tourism decline, Mexico's total was up about 8 percent the first half of 2008. The country is expected to be the second fastest-growing tourist destination in the world within a few years.
The agency behind the development of these resorts is Fonatur, Mexico's national trust for tourism promotion. Created 35 years ago, Fonatur was designed to promote new projects and raise the necessary capital for them.
The country's economy has been well-rewarded. Five of Mexico's top beach resorts that have been initiated by Fonatur Cancun, Ixtapa, Los Cabos, Loreto and the Bays of Huatulco have created thousands of jobs, bringing in more than half of the foreign tourist dollars to the country.
More developments are on the horizon, according to a recent announcement of the Mexican government.
This new mixed-use project, provisionally called the Pacific Coast Integrally Planned Center, will be twice the size of Cancun, which was Fonatur's first project in the early 1970s that now rates at the country's No. 1 destination. Infrastructure work will begin during the first half of 2009, with the final stage of the phased developments to be completed by 2025. The first phase should be done by 2012.
The project is massive involving 5,884 acres in the midst of the Sinaloa National Wetlands. The area is 80 miles south of Mazatlan and west of the Mexico Highway 15 town of Escuinapa.
On land between the Pacific Ocean and lagoons and marshes, the area will include 7 1/2 miles of beaches. Fishing is big in the region, and there are many areas of historical significance.
The development ultimately will create 78,000 direct and indirect jobs, government officials say, and should attract nearly 3 million tourists by the time it is completed.
The overall complex is scheduled to include four golf courses, two marinas for a total of 1,000 vessels, 44,200 hotel rooms, a five-mile beachfront walk and a light railway.
Fonatur might not stop with this development. Under discussion for several years has been a major resort project along the sparsely populated Gulf of California. Fonatur officials have said that the goal of the agency is to "build three Cancuns, and one could be in that area."
It's difficult to sell Mexico short when it comes to developing attractive seaside resorts. We've visited several, particularly in the Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Los Cabos areas along the Pacific Coast, and in the Riviera Maya region along the Caribbean. We've always been impressed.
Bob Retlaff is the travel editor.
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