Home Opinion As tourism grows, infrastructure remains inadequate in a city divided in two

As tourism grows, infrastructure remains inadequate in a city divided in two

As tourism grows, infrastructure remains inadequate in a city divided in two
Santa María Colotepec is one side of the equation that makes up Puerto Escondido.

I find it amazing, to say the least, how little attention we pay to the tourism industry in our country. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that it is not talked about, nor plans are drawn to make it a tangible and beneficial reality for our development, to generate employment, to develop other areas of the nation’s industrial and commercial activities.

In reality, an activity that spreads resources throughout the society wherever it happens only requires that the state provide the necessary infrastructure, the rest is done by people, investors and private parties. We have a good example in the city of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.

Puerto has a special condition. It is a city divided in half, by the border of two municipalities. San Pedro Mixtepec, the “constitutional” one, we could say, is where the law is like everywhere, and the one of usos y costumbres (which sometimes seem more like abuses and customs) [indigenous customary law] called Santa María Colotepec.

They have been eternally fighting over where the border line is drawn and because what is given to one cannot not be given to the other. An always difficult balance for any governor. The destination, however, has only one name and for the 800,000 tourists that visited it last year, a town of no more than 30,000 inhabitants, these trifles don’t matter. But since great feats are in the details, those trifles do matter.

While San Pedro has a reasonable infrastructure, although already stretched to the limit, Santa María completely lacks it. After the pandemic, however, the part that has grown the most is in the municipality of usos y costumbres. By 2020, there were about 80 lodging service providers in Santa María in three neighborhoods (Zicatela, Tamarindos and Punta Zicatela). This year the number is 184 and construction continues. Restaurants went from about 30 or 40 in 2020 to more than 120 in just three years.

The government has seen this explosion and has wanted to support it. The Puerto Escondido-Oaxaca highway will reduce travel times from eight to 2 1/2 hours with a planned movement of 600 cars per day. The airport that has a single gate will soon have five after an already ongoing renovation is done, giving the terminal an estimated capacity of 2 million passengers per year. However, no sewage infrastructure has been built, which endangers the beaches as septic tanks overflow and seep to the subsoil and eventually to the seabed.

No new wells have been drilled, nor is there any work to develop or manage the surrounding basin to provide enough water. Blackouts in various neighborhoods are a daily occurrence due to the lack of electrical infrastructure and telecommunications have had to be resolved with Starlink, because Telmex has not invested in accordance with the growth of the place.

Some attempts at organization have emerged. In some cases with more success than in others, but they always run into the will or personal genius of the incumbent mayor in both municipalities. In Santa María, for example, due to usos y costumbres, investment projects in the 35 communities that exist within the municipality, along with Puerto Escondido, are carried out by raffle, despite the fact that Puerto provides the municipality about 40% of its total annual budget. When tourist service providers asked the previous mayor to return something to the tourist area, he interpreted it as the investors of Punta Zicatela wanting to manage their own budget, and he was not going to allow it.

Tourism has come to this city to provide employment, to improve the living conditions of people in general and to open a space for alternatives, but whether due to a lack of federal, state, municipal or usos y costumbres vision, tourism is not talked about, neither here nor in the country, as if it were a part of us that happens naturally. Nothing more, but also nothing less.

Reprinted from El Economista. The writer is a professor of law at the National Autonomous University (UNAM).

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