Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo, Mexico's first Pueblo Mágico. Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo, Mexico's first Pueblo Mágico.

Magical towns more politics than tourism

Money is motivator for Pueblos Mágicos designation, says travel industry leader

The Pueblos Mágicos program was designed to promote tourism but an industry representative claims that the scheme is more about politics and that many towns awarded the designation lack the infrastructure to cater to visitors’ needs.

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The president of the Mexican Travel Agency Association, Jorge Hernández Delgado, says decisions about which destinations receive the “magical towns” designation come down to negotiations between state governors and federal authorities and money is the main motivator.

In an interview with the newspaper Milenio, Hernández said that in their eagerness to receive federal resources, state governments will do everything they can to get the elite status, such as building infrastructure or remodeling town squares and historic centers.

The federal government allocates large sums of money annually to the upkeep of magical towns, meaning that inclusion on the list can translate into a windfall.

Once the status is conferred, more revenue is also generated due to an increase in visitor numbers. However, Hernández asserts that towns often don’t satisfy key criteria that the program was based on.

There are now 111 towns designated as magical, he said, despite an original goal of just 50, attributing the proliferation to political interests.

“It’s been a political issue that they’ve tried to commercialize by grouping together two or three magical towns to create an itinerary . . . .”

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Hernández stressed that many of the towns that have received the title don’t have enough hotels and that stricter enforcement of criteria is required.

“From my point of view, it’s necessary to check that these designations comply with a check list . . . the problem is that a lot of Pueblos Mágicos don’t have a hotel industry, therefore they are only for [day] visits not for tourists because they don’t stay overnight . . . .”

While rooms can be rented in some, without adequate hotels to attract overnight visitors the basic concept of tourism is lost, Hernández argued.

Although domestic tourism is growing — due in part a 16% downturn in Mexicans visiting the United States — he said that no more towns should be added to the program while the 111 existing locations are reviewed.

“The awarding of the magical towns certification has been a mess . . . . This program is for tourism but if it doesn’t generate tourists then . . . there is no economic spillover.”

Other tourism programs have largely been forgotten, Hernández said, arguing that Mexico’s world heritage listed cities and sites are not promoted as much as they should be.

The Pueblos Mágicos program was established in 2001 during the presidency of Vicente Fox while the list of magical towns was last updated in September 2015 with 28 new additions.

The federal Tourism Secretariat plans to add another nine towns to the list by the end of the year.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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  • Daniel Patman

    Naming Sayulita one proved what most people have known for years to be true.

    • Bonnie G

      Yes, also San Cristobel de las Casas offers few resources and attractions for visitors. However some cities, like Comala, Colima have done a wonderful job living up to that status.

  • bob

    Many of the 25 or so magic towns we have visited were wonderful tourist destinations. Four or five of them, though, definitely did not have that much to offer in attractions, accommodations, restaurants, scenery or otherwise.

  • Rick Echeverria

    Sayulita is a prime example, receiving muchos pesos that probably went into politicians pockets instead of fixing the sewage treatment plant that is dumping raw sewage into a small river and directly on to the beach…in the last 2 years there are hundreds of stories of families to large wedding parties getting sick…que lastima

  • Vakar Tektutar

    Such things would never happen in the US. We are so lucky to live in such a great country!

  • Mary Ellen

    Los Alamos is a good example; most of these so-called “magical towns” have over-priced accommodations so only the 10% foreigners visit them. And many of them are downright BORING with nothing to do but SHOPPING.

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