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A Tale of One Town and a Resort

by ZihuaRob ⌂ @, Zihuatanejo, México, Saturday, February 02, 2019, 11:11 (109 days ago)

IMHO, back when Ixtapa was first proposed, locals got sold a false bill of goods by outsiders taking advantage of the equivalent of country bumpkins. I much prefer being a country bumpkin among like-minded folks living a simple unassuming unpretentious carefree life where I don't have to watch out for the latest scams from the big city scammers, but the big city scammers just won't let us be. And when they decided they and their buddies could make a lot of money from Zihuatanejo, they originally tried to run off the locals. Fortunately people like my suegro and his friends and neighbors told those folks they could only have Zihuatanejo over their dead bodies. So building Ixtapa was their Plan B.

When Ixtapa was being built, jobs for locals were scarce. Construction companies mostly brought their workers with them, in contrast to the promises made to locals before this whole venture began, then when a project was built they left many of their workers here without any money beyond their last paycheck. Of course those workers then needed jobs that they had a lot of difficulty finding. And just when they were getting settled in here came a few hundred more construction workers from another project, and another, and another. All needing housing and jobs that kept getting more and more scarce.

Other locals managed to wrangle a few service jobs in the then brand new resort of Ixtapa, waiting tables, bartending, cleaning, gardening. But mostly the better paying jobs went to people from other cities, and in many cases from other countries. Over 40 years later and it's not unusual to meet a waiter in Ixtapa who has been there for 40 years, clinging to that job as if it were a birthright, the way many jobs are treated here. For a while there was a seemingly symbiotic relationship with Ixtapa whose tourists all seemed to visit Zihuatanejo and patronize local services in Ixtapa's centros comerciales as well as Zihuatanejo's downtown shops.

But around the 90's there was a paradigm shift as greed came to the fore and started nudging Zihuatanejo aside. When I worked at the Sheraton teaching English I got to know the folks who worked in the Sales department there as well as at other hotels because we saw each other every day either on the job or on the buses and collective taxis back and forth from Zihuatanejo, and I was curious why these folks in Sales & Marketing seemed to have so much free time when the hotel didn't seem to be doing much business. I wondered what kind of marketing and promotions they were doing So I asked them. What a revelation their answer was.

They explained that they basically just collected their paychecks. They explained that because the Sheraton made so much money at other destinations in Mexico, Ixtapa was chosen by their corporate HQ to be the hotel that lost money for tax purposes. Upon checking with other Sales departments at other hotels, I came to see this was a common practice. We were intentionally being shafted by several of the big hotels. That was a real eye opener. And though Bob Niederhauser, the Sheraton's general manager back then, tried to involve the local community at the Sheraton by offering locals discounts to come use their pool and restaurants, even throwing annual 4th of July parties for local ex-pats and their families, his life was threatened by then-governor Rubén Figueroa Alcocer who was forced to resign after getting caught being involved in a massacre of campesinos at a place called Aguas Blancas. Bob Niederhauser left and no other Ixtapa hotel manager really seemed to show any interest in Zihuatanejo since then, with a few minor exceptions.

This period of time corresponds to the end of Ixtapa's "epoca dorada". The businesses in Ixtapa's centros comerciales began noticing a scarcity of clients and started closing. Villa Sakura. Aca Joe. Carlos'n'Charlie's. One after another old standards started closing. And little by little the beachfront hotels in Ixtapa's Zona Hotelera I began offering exclusively All-Included packages with no other options. So many hotels did so that even though we collectively managed to bring more tourists back, their off-property spending was so low that restaurants and shops kept closing in Ixtapa, and Ixtapa began falling into ruin, a trend that continues to this day even with the spiffy new (and quite dangerous) bicycle path that now runs down the middle of the road in what was the gardened area between the lanes of traffic.

This was before there was any real violence in the area to speak of, which began in earnest during the first few years of the new millennia.

Ixtapa's hotels continue looking out for themselves with very few exceptions. Yes, Azul and the old Krystal organized a few beach cleanups. Thanks. But they dominate the OCV-IZ (Oficina de Convenciones y Visitantes de Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo), which frankly doesn't do us any good in Zihuatanejo at all, for which reason Zihuatanejo hoteliers are clamoring for representation in the OCV-IZ because it receives funding from our local government. Year after year we read the "happy data" put out by the state's tourism office (another huge waste of resources that does nothing for Zihuatanejo) showing elevated occupation levels in Ixtapa's hotels compared to consistently mediocre levels for Zihuatanejo except during Navidad and Semana Santa when we usually fill up 100%.

Zihuatanejo's old original families who belong to the Ejido de Zihuatanejo had lands in Ixtapa expropriated from them that they were never compensated for. Ixtapa received first-world infrastructure through federal funds while Zihuatanejo remained largely ignored, getting a few crumbs here and there. Slowly but surely honest hard-working locals who weren't involved in government corruption kept getting poorer and poorer for different reasons while outsiders building and operating condos and hotels prospered. The criminal element also prospered and found fertile ground, which is how Zihuatanejo's once tranquil downtown area where many families lived from their family-owned posadas and the rents they charged to other businesses found themselves being bled dry as they became the targets of extortion and as their businesses were hurt by the noisy bars running off their guests and clients.

Of course, for me one of the straws that broke the camel's back was when organized land thieves began showing up, coddled by politicians seeking votes, and assisted to remain on our hillsides by well-meaning but manipulated foreigners who kept building schools for them, one of the requirements for getting their squatter community's lands "regularized" and titled, which of course they usually sell immediately and move on to the next land invasion.

Next thing we knew not only did we lose our picture postcard perfectly beautiful hillsides and ecological zones, but our city services quickly found themselves overwhelmed as thousands of unscrupulous land thieves saw they were essentially given the green light by similarly unscrupulous politicians, and all of a sudden we found ourselves without fresh water and inundated with sewage, garbage and crime.

Even though I presaged much of this 30 years ago and tried to warn friends and family and neighbors, of course almost no one took me seriously and no one heeded my warnings. Nevertheless, nowadays many if not most locals share my point of view regarding the problems with the All-Inclusive hotels in Ixtapa's Zona Hotelera I, the noise from the downtown bars and the squatters on the hillsides.

For the past 20 years or so I have tried to promote our REGION with Zihuatanejo as its center by virtue of its airport and services. We remain the third largest population center in the state after Acapulco and Chilpancingo. If our tourism were managed properly we could easily keep our hotels above 50% all year and include everything from La Saladita to Las Bahías de Papanóa. Unfortunately everyone else is only promoting themselves, sometimes at the expense of their neighbors, such as in the case of Ixtapa especially.

While I'm certainly far from being the sharpest thorn on the bush, I still feel that my life's experiences living in tourist destinations provide me with valuable insight that could help find solutions to some of our problems. Of course, simply applying the law and removing land thieves from our hillsides would be a huge improvement to the community, but the nature of politicians and their parties makes that an extremely unlikely event. But there certainly are measures we can take to restore local control to our government as well as to come up with long-range plans to set us back on a path of prosperity. Currently there is no comprehensive vision for our future beyond the Plan Director which is essentially a building code drafted by outsiders that is only loosely adhered to if at all.

But you have to be able to admit and identify a problem before you can find solutions and fix it, and unfortunately too many of us are either still in that ignorance and denial stage or else we're more interested in channeling water to our own mill instead of helping our community.

Personally I'm not exactly thrilled with the density of construction that's been allowed at La Ropa, or with the invasion of the remodeled waterfront walkway into more of the beach area. Our beaches should be inviolable, and I don't believe we should allow any construction that removes any sand and replaces it with concrete. Lots of my neighbors have slowly but surely raised their voices in complaint with each tree that is removed from a downtown street or along the waterfront. FINALLY folks are getting it. I just hope it's not too late. But construction continues on the restored walkway that is currently invading meters of beach at Playa La Madera, and no one is raising their voice, including La Madera's neighbors.

While turning back the clock is not the goal, preserving our attractions should be among our primary goals, always with an eye to the well-being and prosperity of the LOCAL community first. Natural beauty and tranquility are easily identifiable as primordial among those attractions, and we are doing a very poor job preserving them. So there's an easily identifiable place to start and to concentrate initial efforts.

Local tour guides know how much their clients love seeing rural life. They enjoy visiting small rural villages and meeting the people. Marveling at their apparent tranquility and the simplicity of their life and of the genuine warmth locals display towards complete strangers, a trait that has always distinguished the people of this region. We shouldn't have to visit rural communities to find these things. They used to abound right here in Zihuatanejo before being overrun by so many people coming here to suckle from the Zihuatanejo cash cow, leaving its teats dried up and withered. We can do better. What Zihuatanejo needs is loving attention instead of this constant and incessant selfish greed.

Where have all the palm trees gone?
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