The Growth Of Tourism In Latin America: Tourism In Mexico

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Latin America is a group of countries and dependencies in the western hemisphere. Latin America includes countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and many more. The major languages spoken in Latin America include Portuguese, Spanish and French. Tourism has played a great role in the development of many countries in Latin America. The following essay is going to look into the history, current state, and future potential of tourism in the Latin American country of Mexico. This report will also identify any issues that may have hampered in the past or may hinder in the future tourism development in Mexico.

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Introduction to Mexico

Tourism is one of the mainstays of the Mexican economy and its largest service sector; it produces the third-highest foreign exchange earnings after oil export (Clancy, 2001) and migrant remittances (Wilson, 2008). Mexico is one of the most visited out of all the Latin American countries and often features in the top 10 most visited countries in the world. The current population of Mexico is 127,838,146 as of Tuesday, September 10, 2019, based on the latest United Nations estimates. This places Mexico in the top 10 most populated countries in the world and gives it the equivalent to 1.65% of the total world population judging by the latest figures. Mexico is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations with approximately 20 million plus foreign visitors a year. Mexico is famous for many things such as its tequila, the Aztecs and the Mayas, drug cartel wars, Corona beer and the beach resorts on the Pacific and Caribbean side of the country. Mexico is well known for many wonderful things however they are also known for many bad things such as corruption, drugs and gang violence.

Attractions in Mexico


Mexico is renowned worldwide for its great beaches and beachside settlements. Many of these feature on Mexican beer giant Corona’s marketing campaigns. One of Mexico’s most visited beaches is the resort destination of Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and the island of Cozumel, collectively known as the Mayan Riviera. This magnificent area on the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula attracts some five million visitors each year, in the process generating huge tourist revenues. The area also boasts numerous fun things to do, such as dolphin and stingray swims, snorkelling among reefs and tropical fish, as well as scuba diving in the world’s largest underwater museum, a spectacular collection of sculptures submerged at depths of up to eight meters. Other notable beaches in Mexico include Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and the Los Cabos Corridor and Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo where you can also experience things such as beachside bars and restaurants, shopping, jet skiing, snorkelling and other sea based activities.

Copper Canyon: Mexico’s Grand Canyon

Copper Canyon also known as the Grand Canyon of Mexico is a popular destination among tourists. Copper Canyon is a canyon system located in the Sierra Tarahumara in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. The canyon is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States of America. The Copper Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though the area would be Mexico’s star national park, it thus far has no official status as a park as efforts to make it so have been hampered by disagreements between loggers and the native Raramuri. One of the key drawcards to the site is the train ride that takes you through the small towns that lie within the canyon. Other things to do at Copper Canyon include hiking, camping outside under the stars and visiting the small towns that lie within the canyon.

Mexico City’s Historic Center

Mexico City is Mexico’s capital city and its most largest. The main area in Mexico City where people visit is Centro Histórico de la Ciudad. Centro Histórico de la Ciudad is a 15-square-kilometer UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to more than 1,400 important colonial buildings from the 16th – 19th centuries. It’s here; you’ll find most of Mexico City’s major attractions, many within walking distance of Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución), the city’s bustling main plaza, including the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Templo Mayor with its Aztec relics.

Chichén Itzá

Chichen Itza is an archaeological site in Yucatan and one of the most visited locations in Mexico. Rich in history and the centre of pilgrimage for the ancient Maya civilization for over 1,000 years, Chichen Itza is full of interesting facts. This place is classified as one of the new 7 wonders of the world and in 1988 it was enlisted as an UNESCO world heritage site. The main attraction at Chichen Itza is the Pyramid of Kukulkán which was built around 700-1300 AD. The newest part, which is the most visible and largest of the pyramids, dates back to around 1050-1300 AD. The pyramid is the most photographed structure in Chichen Itza.


Known as an art city, Guanajuato is home to many fine galleries, as well as interesting museums, none more so than the Museum of Quixote, dedicated to the works of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. The city also hosts Latin America’s most important festival in honor of the writer, the International Cervantino Festival. Due to the cities old historical buildings it like many other cities in Mexico was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Ancient Fortress of Tulum

Famous as the only fortified Mayan settlement located on the coast, the ancient city of Tulum is one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s most visited attractions. In the Mayan Riviera and within easy reach of the beaches of Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel, the site’s well-preserved ruins can be seen for miles around due to their location atop 12-meter-high cliffs overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea.


The city of Oaxaca in Mexico is known as the place tourists go to receive a more authentic Mexican experience. The city is reasonably untouched and large developments have not sprung up like in many other popular tourist destinations. In addition to its unspoiled city center and old architecture, the city has become a cultural hub that draws crowds for its numerous events and festivals, including the spectacular Guelaguetza, an indigenous festival that takes place each July and includes traditional dancing, costumes, music, food, and crafts.

Scale and Nature of Tourism in Mexico (type of tourism/tourists)

Tourism plays a vital role in the economic development of Mexico. Tourism in Mexico directly accounts for 8.5% of GDP, 5.8% of full-time paid employment (in the formal sector), and 77.2% of service exports. It contributes positively to Mexico’s Balance of Payments, and generates higher than average value to the economy (OECD, 2017). The contribution from tourists rake in large amounts of money for Mexico that help fund things such as infustructure, health projects and many other government spending activities. A record 32.1 million international tourists contributed MXN 246.1 billion (USD 15.5 billion) to the economy in 2015, with growth in people and monetary flows to the country outstripping growth in many advanced and emerging tourism economies in recent years (OECD, 2017). Border visitors are where the majority of Mexico’s tourists come from. A border tourist comes from countries surrounding Mexico such as the United States. The highest amount of international visitors who travelled by air in 2018 come from the United States of America. The next closest is Canada, followed by the United Kingdom. The majority of the highest visiting nationalities come from countries that are close to Mexico with the exception of the United Kingdom.

The most popular forms of tourism in Mexico include cultural tourism, sport tourism, nature tourism and gastronomic tourism. According to statistics from the top spots based on visitor numbers include Cancun which saw 2.8 million travellers visit, Mexico City, Oaxaca which is number 3 on National Geographic’s list of Places You Need to Visit in 2018 and Guanajuato was ranked number 9 in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018.

Issues for the development of tourism in Mexico


War played a large role in affecting the development of tourism in Mexico. During the war year, 1944, when 126,000 tourists came to Mexico only 30% travelled by automobile with gas rationing on, and 19% by airlines: In 1950 the number of tourists increased to 390,000 and 59% came by automobile on the new and improved highways, and 23% by airlines. In 1950 the total number of American tourists alone was 550,000. Auto travel brought 27% into Mexico, and 73% travelled by air and other means of transportation. War meant there was a small decline in tourism numbers in Mexico however after the war Mexico began to pump money into tourism in Mexico.


Globalisation is a problem for the development of tourism in Mexico. Globalisation is the process where the world is becoming increasingly interconnected as a result of massively increased rate of trade and cultural exchange (Nordqvist, 2018). Relating it to Mexico they are currently investing heavily in the tourism sector. This means that they are building new infustructure to accommodate tourists which in some places are taking away the whole historical authentic experience of Mexico. With globalisation it is seeing more westernised experiences being provided to suit the needs of tourists which often shy away from the authentic Mexican experience. However it also has some positive effects as it can see jobs created that may not have normally been created and can lead to increased economic growth.

Corruption is another problem for the development of tourism in Mexico. Corruption has been argued to harm an economy’s macroeconomic well-being and ‘sand the wheels of growth’. Corruption is generally in the form of bribes to get things such as a better hotel room or upgrades. It can also be used by businesses to work with government organisations to gain advantages over competitors. Estimates suggest that the country devotes 9-12 percent of its gross domestic product to bribes, that small and medium-sized businesses spend US$43 billion annually to cut bureaucratic red tape, and that 10 percent of spending on public contracts goes to corruption (Morris, 2009). This is quite a high amount of money being spent illegally and can have huge effects on the tourism industry. Corruption can see organisations not act in the best interest of the tourists and can lead to serious harm. For example an organisation could pay the government a bribe to cut costs of building materials and use unskilled labour that don’t meet building standards. This could lead to poor building standards and an unsafe environment for tourists.

Crime and gang violence plays a great role in hampering the development of tourism in Mexico. Some studies in sociology have determined the importance of the feeling of safety of tourists, arguing that tourists wish to feel secure during their holidays. In Mexico drug cartels and other organised crime groups wreak havoc on the streets which can put tourist’s safety in danger. Mexico has had the most murders recorded in its history, with more than 17,000 people killed in the first half of 2019. There is strong evidence to suggest that criminal organisations are targeting high tourist’s areas. A study done on crime in Mexico found some interesting findings. This study suggests that the crime rate within geographic areas in Mexico is significantly correlated to the magnitude of foreign tourist business (Jud, 1975). This further backs the theory that criminal organisations are targeting high tourist areas.


Overtourism could become a future problem for Mexico. With the fast growth of the tourism industry and ever increasing tourist numbers visiting Mexico this could lead to the over tourism phenomenon. The ‘over tourism’ phenomenon has become a problem in the tourism industry over recent years. The Overtourism phenomenon is when large influxes of tourists visit countries that may not have the infustructure or resources to provide tourists with a pleasant experience. Overtourism has contributed and helped form a concept called anti-tourism. Anti-tourism is when members of the host communities are against tourists coming into their community and they do not support tourism in their region. Mexican locals may become fed up with the increased tourist numbers and may not be very supportive of future tourist developments in the country.

Loss of authenticity could also be a future problem for Mexico. ‘Authentic’ tourist experiences are seen as the ultimate goal of the tourist as is the ‘true’ or ‘unconditional’ leisure experience for the recreationist. MacCannell (1976) is considered to have recognized the importance of the authenticity concept for tourist analyses. He describes these experiences as the worthwhile and spontaneous experience of travel and they have the elements of spontaneity, worth, and genuineness (Pearce and Moscordo 1986). With the high emphasis on authentic experiences with the growing threat of globalisation it may see Mexico lose its authenticity. This could hamper growth as with less tourists visiting, this could lead to budget cuts by the government.

Future Potential of Tourism in Mexico

Tourism is high on the policy agenda in Mexico, and is identified as one of six priority economic sectors in the National Development Plan 2013-18. The country has a remarkable range of well-articulated tourism plans and programmes which aim to spur investment and economic growth promote balanced regional development and stimulate more productive, inclusive and sustainable growth. Ensuring these plans and programmes are effectively co-ordinated and implemented will be vital to realising Mexico’s tourism development potential, and delivering on these objectives. Transport plays a vital role in enabling tourist activities to take place in Mexico. Strong investment in things such as roading and infustructure has led to growth in the tourism sector and is paving the way for future tourism developments in the country. Mexico’s coastal locations are a hotspot for tourists which is why it is seen as one of the key places Mexico is investing in. Attention over the last four decades has mainly focused on the development of highly concentrated coastal resorts, which in turn is reflected in tourism demand, marketing and promotion (OECD, 2017). Some problems that have arisen and could be a problem for the future is changing of demand. By essentially putting the majority of their eggs in the same basket a change in tourist demand could see all this investment wasted. Some key recommendations for the future according to the OECD include promoting a more integrated approach and stronger governance for tourism policy, boost connectivity to support market diversification and move visitors around the country, promote inclusive tourism growth, product diversification and destination development and lastly target investment and SME financing to support supply-side innovation.


Tourism plays a huge role in the development of the Latin American country Mexico. Things such as war, globalisation, corruption and crime have a played a role whether being good or bad in shaping the tourism industry in Mexico. Strong investing activities by the Mexican government has enabled Mexico to grow into a destination that is visited by millions of tourists every year. The strong investing activities have also set Mexico up for future tourism developments by funding vital roading and infustructure. Overall Mexico has developed its tourism industry into one that benefits not only the tourists but the citizens living there and is why it commonly appears in the top 10 most visited countries in the world.


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14 May 2021

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