Mass tourism is causing pollution problems in Mazatlán, triggering calls for a greater focus on sustainable tourism in the Pacific coast resort city.
Some 677,000 tourists are expected to visit the Sinaloa beach destination during the summer vacation period of July and August, according to the newspaper El Sol de Mazatlán, which also reported that 800,000 visitors flocked to the city in Holy Week, a figure that easily exceeds Mazatlán’s population of approximately 500,000. In addition, Mazatlan is expected to see three times as many cruise ships visit this year than in 2021.
Mayor Luis Guillermo Benítez Torres acknowledged last week that Mazatlán is swamped with tourists, but asserted that is a good thing given the benefits tourism brings to the local economy.
“In Mazatlán there are vacations practically the whole year. … You have to line up for about two hours to enjoy breakfast in a restaurant because fortunately everything is saturated,” he said last Tuesday.
Blanca Roldán, a Mazatlán-based academic who specializes in issues related to the environment and development, agreed that tourism is good for Mazatlán from an economic standpoint, but highlighted that the massive influx of visitors also has negative consequences.
“The contamination problem is undoubtedly increasing,” she told El Sol de Mazatlán. Roldán said that the accumulation of waste, as well as noise and visual pollution, are tourism-related problems in the city known as the “Pearl of the Pacific.”
“The most common [form of pollution], or that which citizens notice the most, is that generated by trash, especially on the coast and in public places,” she said.
Roldán said that nightclubs and bars as well as public transport and tourism-related construction projects all contribute to noise pollution in Mazatlán, while construction projects also cause visual pollution.
“The construction of extremely high towers doesn’t just break the harmony of the landscape, but has also blocked … the view to the sea of some residents,” Roldán said. The academic also said that real estate development destroys native vegetation, and causes other damage to the environment.
“This type of urban development is not sustainable, not just for the environment but also for residents,” she said.
Roldán told El Sol de Mazatlán that an increased focus on sustainable tourism is urgently needed.
“Sustainable tourism is that which should be maintained, … [tourism that] doesn’t [adversely] affect communities, local citizens and natural resources,” she said.
“The characteristic of this kind of tourism is respect for the environment – [tourism activities] carried out with minimal impact in natural areas while creating environmental awareness among visitors,” Roldán said.
She said that there are very few bona fide sustainable tourism and ecotourism activities on offer, explaining that the number of people participating in excursions in natural areas often exceeds the capacity of the environment in which they take place.
“Sustainable tourism has to be related to the local context, its culture, flora and fauna. [It’s about] having an experience with natural resources in a respectful way,” Roldán said, adding that tour guides have an important role to play because they need to tell tourists what they can and can’t do to avoid harm to the environment.
The current lack of focus on alternative tourism activities – such as tours on nature trails and bird-watching excursions – appears to be related to a lack of demand for them. Roldán said that most tourists come to Mazatlán to spend time at the beach, drink alcohol and listen to banda music.
“Tourism is mainly domestic,” she said, adding that visitors generally don’t have very high levels of education. “That doesn’t mean they don’t have a certain status [due to] their purchasing power,” Roldán said.
In order for sustainable tourism to become more prevalent in Mazatlán, “environmental awareness” among tourists, tourism operators and hoteliers is needed, she said, adding that political and business will is also required.
“But it’s not something that is easy [to achieve]. The business objective in tourism is to have profits,” Roldán said.
Another person who would like to see a broader range of tourism activities in Mazatlán is Juan Jaquez, a seasoned traveler and ecologist from Gómez Palacio, Durango.
“As a visitor, I see very little alternative tourism [activities] on offer, … [things] that aren’t limited to beach, sun and sand,” he told El Sol de Mazatlán. “In other destinations, they bet more on attractions such as hiking, cycling and forest walks, among other things,” Jaquez said.
Like Roldán, the 28-year-old ecologist advocated a greater focus on sustainable tourism to reduce the negative impact visitors have on the local environment. Jaquez, who has traveled to Mazatlán on several occasions, said he has noticed pollution problems in the city, including issues related to the poor management of wastewater and trash. The influx of tourists in certain periods of the year – such as summer – only exacerbates the problems.
But Jaquez believes that offering more sustainable tourism activities could ease the pressure that tourists exert.
“The beaches are the best attraction in Mazatlán, but there are also tourists who … want to do other kinds of activities that are friendlier to the environment. The port [city] has the potential to provide that … because it has important natural areas. It’s time to start taking advantage of them,” he said.
With reports from El Sol de Mazatlán