Indeed, while the major hotel chains and business situated in the recreational business district reap in the profits from the well-healed tourist traffic, there is little "trickle-down" economics at work in Cancun so that the poor stay poor while the rich just get richer. For example, Jafari concludes that tourist ghettoes "also bring little economic benefit to local communities as visitors have few opportunities to spend money on local goods and services; whereas resort income is maximized, the majority of tourist spending occurring within the (often foreign-owned) resort complex" (254).
This spatial separation between tourists, visitors and others from local residents and workers has been further reinforced and even encouraged by the inordinately high rate of migration to the area which can be attributed both to the climate and location, but to employment opportunities for Latin Americans as well. As a result, child labor is rampant in Cancun. For instance, according to Castellanos (2007), "In Cancun, adolescent migrants as young as age eleven work in the service and construction industries. They can be found cleaning hotels and private homes, selling goods on the street, and mixing cement for building crews. Not surprisingly, domestic service is one of the most common forms of child labor" (2).
The demand for unskilled labor to support the service industries that have cropped up in Cancun has increased over the past four decades or so across the board as well in ways that have fundamentally, and some say adversely, affected other aspects of the cultural geography of the city. For example, Hashimoto emphasizes that "Tourism development tends to have an impact on labor markets, attracting mainly unskilled laborers in direct and induced jobs. The migration of laborers causes not only a shift in human resources in the primary and secondary industries, but also the relocation of the population" (82). This has certainly been the case in Cancun as well. For instance, Castellanos adds that, "The construction of Cancun in the early 1970s intensified migration in the region, particularly from indigenous communities, and stimulated the local economy's reliance on service work, a gendered division of labor, and global capital. The resulting migration of adults and, more recently, adolescents has deeply affected the social life of indigenous communities in the peninsula" (2). The increasingly young and largely unskilled workforce that has resulted from this unplanned but relentless migration has created an even more divisive separation between affluent tourists and the local residents who make their visits possible.
There are some viable alternatives to the existing approach to development and administration, though, that hold some promise in addressing the foregoing problems for local residents and foreign visitors alike in sustainable ways. In this regard, Hashimoto emphasizes that, "Sustainability is a buzzword in the contemporary development discussion and the use of the term in the tourism industry is no exception. As national resources, including culture and heritage, are the main assets in tourism, it has been argued that economic well-being should not precede social and environmental well-being" (83). In fact, social and environmental well-being of the local residents of Cancun can be promoted by using a fundamentally different approach to tourism that encourages rather than discourages foreign visitors from touring the regions in which these people live and work. For instance, Hashimoto concludes that, "Officials have debated whether alternative forms of tourism rather than mass tourism, which has been the mainstream product for quite some time, are more sustainable. Ecotourism, particularly community-based ecotourism, is becoming the mainstay of alternative tourism development in least developed countries" (83).
The research showed that although it is not particularly well suited for agricultural purposes, the physical geographic features of the Yucatan peninsula upon which the resort destination of Cancun was constructed as a planned economic developmental project in the early 1970s makes it an ideal location for the "sun and beach" market. The city has grown from just a few hundred residents to over a quarter million in just four decades and the growth shows no signs of abating in view of the massive migration that continues to take place to the city and its environs. Although it rains a great deal in Cancun, most of this precipitation is lost to the Atlantic Ocean and groundwater represents a vitally important resource for the residents and visitors alike. The research also showed that people have been living in the Cancun regions for centuries in spite of the paucity of fresh water supplies, suggesting that there is something about the place that makes it a good place to live and a great place to visit. Unfortunately, for many residents living in Cancun today, the carefully planned spatial segregation of the resort facilities and tourist attractions in the city's recreational business district has also contributed to the existence of a veritable tourism ghetto in the city where locals are kept separated from mind and view from the affluent tourists that drive the city's development. The massive growth that has taken place in the city has been fueled in large part by the demand for unskilled labor, and many critics point to the use of child labor as a means of satisfying this need. Finally, while it is clear that the segregation of Cancun's local residents and workers can be detrimental to them both socially and economically, it also fails to provide foreign visitors with valuable insights into Mexico's culture and the reality of the problems the country continues to face today. Taken together, these issues suggest that local and national policymakers have much to consider in the future when it comes to how best to design, build and administer a resort destination to ensure that the economic development that results is not restricted to a few large conglomerates, many of which may be foreign owned, but rather provides the local populace with an opportunity to share the wealth as well and to provide foreign visitors with the opportunity to meet real people with a real and vibrant culture that deserves to be better understood.
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Hashimoto, Atsuko. 2002. "In Pursuit of Paradise: Tourism and Development." Harvard
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