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Tourism in San Miguel: Good or Bad?



TURISMO Guillermo González

By Jesús Aguado

Viajemos Todos por México (Let´s Travel Through Mexico) is the federal program that “aims to help those with low incomes to travel within Mexico, to know more about it, and to be proud of their country.” Thanks to this program, the tourism level in the state of Guanajuato and in San Miguel de Allende has recently increased. While this seems like a good development on the surface, after the last weekends of 2017, some Sanmiguelenses complained about the lack of infrastructure to support that increase, which has resulted in a lack of parking spaces; more traffic, noise, and trash; prices increases; and other problems that may be related to an indiscriminate promotion of San Miguel. Some have also criticized the quality of tourists as poor.

“Even though I live outside Centro, I work there, and I can say that since around four years ago it has become almost impossible to find a parking spot or even arrive on time to work. We know we live in a tourism destination and that we are able to sustain ourselves through tourism, but now that has come to mean that, little by little, we cannot enjoy our city that has stopped belonging to Sanmiguelenses. I have not visited the Centro in a long time because it is complicated [to get there], and on vacations, I prefer to leave San Miguel,” said Constanza Morado, a Sanmiguelense.

Guillermo González, manager of the Tourism Council, qualifies those “problems” as happy ones. As for the local government, Mayor Ricardo Villarreal asserted that they will keep attracting tourism from people with major buying power, thanks to the construction of more super luxe hotels.

Potential for Medical Tourism

In 2017, tourism authorities stated that the number of visitors in the city was increased by 50 percent, rising up to 2 million visitors. Luz María Núñez Flores, former mayor and now member of San Miguel’s Mobility Council, says that one of the problems is the “lack of conscience in promoting San Miguel, with a shapeless campaign to attract thousands of people [which will] surpass the infrastructure of the city.” According to Flores, “some [referring to the administration of former mayor Mauricio Trejo] had the ambition of making San Miguel famous, but it was already famous,” and they did not pick the right markets for the promotion.

In Núñez’s opinon, San Miguel already had enough promotion when it was appointed as a World Heritage City in 2008, because that gave San Miguel a very important tourism status. People with buying power visit such cities, she said. According to her, during her administration, she tried to make San Miguel a green destination and promote ecotourism. She had some achievements in this arena. However, the next administration promoted the city without a specific plan.

According to Núñez, the promotional campaign was so expansive that all kinds of people arrived in San Miguel—not just visitors—but also developers, criminals, and people “of very low quality” who just wanted to take advantage of Sanmiguelenses and did not care if small local businesses disappeared. They just came to fulfill their own interests. The local administrations should be responsible about how they promote San Miguel. She said it is most important to take care of the city and its residents, not its tourists.

Núñez noted that with the new hospitals in town, San Miguel now has a potential for medical tourism that would attract people seeking medical procedures that can performed here and offer them facilities to recover in for three to six months. “And Mayor Villarreal, I know, is working on it. Because that [kind of] tourism has good buying power, those are the visitors that we want,” said Núñez.

Study of Touristic Capacity Needed

So the number of visitors is greater. However, it is unknown how, where, or when San Miguel can offer service to these tourists, because a study on the city’s touristic capacity has never been conducted. San Miguel should have had one after 2008 when it was appointed as a World Heritage Site.

Currently, Guillermo González told Atención that the state government has authorized a budget to pay a Canadian company to conduct the study. It should be ready by the first half of this year. This study must show data in order to allow accurate tourism planning, but Núñez already believes that it will not tell what really is going on “because it will talk about the infrastructure that the city [already] has. And what we need are more activities and promotion for alternative tours, to give the visitors something to do and take them out of the Historic Center. The revenue should also go to the rural communities with ecotourism.”

Núñez also remarked that the Mobility Council has multiple plans to improve the pedestrian and vehicular mobility as well as attention to visitors, but they will wait for the right time to start the projects. Finally, she highlighted that the unmeasured number of tourists in Miguel is the result “of marketing with no design and with no structure, that does not look for the specific touristic sectors that we want.”

Illegality Harms the City

Do the members of the Tourist Council like the current state of tourism the city? González said that his office is working with the Virtuoso Company, whose clients have a minimum income of US$250,000. “Nevertheless not all the promoters of the city feel along the same lines. Viajemos Todos por México is a very interesting social campaign and very successful, but it is targeted to a sector that we are not necessarily interested in. They have wanted to film some advertisements here to include San Miguel in their campaign, but we have opposed it. This has generated some conflicts for us, but we do not want that promotion,” said González.

González told Atención that the weekends in December 2017 were successful for San Miguel because the hotels had 70 percent occupancy on Christmas Eve, 100 percent for New Year’s, and 70 percent the first weekend of 2018. “It was a very important number of visitors. We had the expected occupancy, and the number of people who came to eat and left also increased.” But, for González, there is a problem: people have taken advantage of the Internet to rent their houses and rooms for short stays—approximately 2,500 locations hosting up to 10,000 visitors—and that is not legal competition with the hotels in town.

Hotels are legally registered, pay taxes, and have employees with all the legally required compensations. Places offered online, said González, (through sites like Airbnb) cause damage to the tourism industry, not just because these online offerings do not pay taxes but also because their employees (often just one or two) do not necessarily receive the legally required amount of compensation. In addition, these sites do not pay the two percent local tax of their revenue to promote the destination.These visitors, nevertheless, use public infrastructure.

The Tourist Council, Gonzalez says, wants to work to attract different kinds of tourism on the weekdays, such as conference tourism, using the connections, infrastructure, and services of places like the Rosewood Hotel, the Real de Minas, Misión, and La Casona, among others.



Three Luxury Hotels To Bring “Buying Power”

According to Mayor Villarreal, nobody can deny anyone entry to San Miguel. “It would be unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral to tell anyone that they cannot have access to the city because they have no money.”

Nevertheless, he mentioned that the administration is working on a strategy to attract people with more buying power. Ideal projects would be ones that do not decrease hotel rates, and so the city is courting luxury hotels to bring exclusive tourism that will spend money throughout San Miguel. Mayor Villarreal said that when entrepreneurs want to bring their hotels to the city, they have to be the best. As an example he mentioned Aqua Hotel at Obraje. The Posadas Group also has Fiesta Inn and One, he said, “but we wanted [only] the best,” remarked Villarreal.

He also said that three or four more hotels will be announced in the weeks to come—hotels with the quality of the Rosewood or the Matilda that promote San Miguel in an exclusive market. Among those new constructions, he mentioned JW Marriott “from the most important hotel chains in the world,” as well as Pueblo Bonito, “already operating in Mazatlán and Cabos. The people who come to the beach can get a flight to León and come to San Miguel. We want them to come,” he said. Those projects are the product of the work his administration has done the last 24 months, he said, and will be constructed in the next two years. “That would give San Miguel the best hotel occupancy in Latin America for a destination with no beach.”

“Many people come to San Miguel, stroll around, and leave because the city is expensive, but they have the right to know and explore this city. Those people complaining about tourism are not [originally] from San Miguel; they arrived here as tourists and stayed. We opened the doors to them, as we do to everyone. There is no way to tell people, ‘You can enter the city because you’re rich, and you cannot because you are poor.’ I beg those people’s pardon, but they have a good life, and I do not work for them. I work for all Sanmiguelenses, especially for those most in need, and most of us live from tourism,” charged Villarreal.

On the “uncontrolled” growth of the city, Villarreal remarked that his administration has blocked the selling of 13 thousand plots that would attract people in need of employment. Now his administration has authorized close to two thousand plots for sale that, he said, will bring people who will generate development and employment “and will not look for a job.”

On the traffic matter, he allowed that “there is room for people, but not for vehicles.” An aggressive plan to address the issue will officially begin within 30 days, he said. It will feature parking lots at the main entrances of the city, parking meters, the launching of shuttle buses (with new routes), plus the opening of a visitor center.

“San Miguel is not the same place as 20 years ago, when people could park in front of the Parroquia. It has changed, and we need to put into effect changes that generate disagreements. But those who complained are people who have it all. They live a good life and do not need incomes to live off day by day,” Villarreal said.

With the launching of the Mobility Program to address the traffic situation, there will be unexpected benefits: the public parking lots, for example, will have the obligation of offering public washrooms to visitors. If they don’t, the sites’ leases will not be renewed.

There are not many public washrooms in the city, and for that reason, the administration is trying to improve those adjacent to the church of St. Michael the Archangel, as well as construct bathrooms “underground” near Las Monjas Church. But first the National Institute of Anthropology and History has to issue an authorization.

The problems San Miguel has after tourism, are “good problems, Villarreal said.

“I prefer to have these good problems from good results rather than have a dead city with no residents, with unemployment, poverty, and no hope in the people. We still have much work to perform, and those who are against development have no love for others and do not care about the improvement of the life of Sanmiguelenses.”


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