Despite Decrease in Tourism Income Statewide, San Miguel is Hanging On
By Jesús Aguado
Fourteen percent fewer visitors came to the state of Guanajuato in the first two quarters of 2019, resulting in a statewide decrease in tourism income of 43.58 million pesos, 13 percent fewer pesos than earned over the same period in 2018.
According to the Secretaria de Turismo del Estado (State Tourism Office) numbers, only 14.4 million visitors came to the state in the first half of the year. Cities most affected by this decrease include Salamanca, at a drop of 32 percent; Silao at 26 percent; Irapuato at 21 percent; and Guanajuato and Celaya at 15 percent.
San Miguel de Allende is the least affected city in the state. During these two quarters, there have been 316,681 hotel guests here, a decrease of only 0.75 percent. On its own, the city’s tourism generated 1.08 million pesos, in third place for tourism income after León, which earned 4.4 million, and the city of Guanajuato, which took in 1.1 million.
Visitors to San Miguel stay an average of 1.3 days, spending an average 2,477 pesos per day, according to state tourism figures. The figures provided do not include visitors just passing through town for the day, nor people who find lodging through Internet sites such as Airbnb.
Despite the fact that San Miguel is withstanding the statewide decrease so far, the city does face oncoming challenges to maintaining the profitability of the local tourism industry. The new presidential administration has abandoned its commitment to the federal tourism agency that promoted San Miguel and other Mexican cities abroad. Meanwhile, for every short-term rental of private homes to tourists through Internet-lodging sites, the city loses hospitality tax revenues a hotel in town would pay. Finally, another challenge to profitability is the issue of rising crime. In 2019, the city has seen a record-breaking number of homicides.
San Miguel’s tourism council president, Laura Torres, says the city’s hotels are finding themselves in uncharted waters. Visitor numbers are beginning to decrease, not only due to security concerns but also they believe due to the disappearance of the federal government’s Consejo de Promoción Turística de México (Council for the Promotion of Tourism), which annually marketed San Miguel and other touristic Mexican cities abroad.
“This has caused foreigners to go to other destinations,” Torres said, adding that San Miguel and the city of Guanajuato are now working with the US and Canadian consulates to promote travel internationally and to attract visitors.
Going after Internet-lodging revenue
The local government estimates that there are 2,700 homes in San Miguel providing regular short-term lodging to visitors. Until recently, these residential homeowners paid no taxes or fees to the city despite the fact that hotels are required to pay such taxes, and despite the fact that short-term rental property guests consume city services like water, trash pickup, street cleaning, roadway use, police protection, and traffic control.
In the beginning of 2019, a new regulation went into effect, requiring Internet-lodging property owners to obtain a government-authorized land-use permit that costs 10,000 pesos annually. City officials have estimated the new regulation will garner 20 million pesos for the city coffers, money that they said will be used to pay for public services like more security, street cleaning, and mobility initiatives.
Torres applauded the city’s decision to regulate Internet-lodging establishments, saying that such places take advantage of tourism promotion done by the government but pay nothing in taxes toward the cost of that promotion, nor toward the city services their guests use.
Jorge Olalde, president of the Asociación de Hoteles y Establecimientos de Hospedaje (Hotel and Lodging Association) of San Miguel, told Atención that the houses available for rent are not always in the best condition to receive visitors. He believes that the permit process will help with that. Registering these properties also means the figures for the exact number of people being lodged in the city will be available. These sorts of establishments ought to offer proper security to guests, he said, and he believes these permits will afford peace of mind to a city that thrives on tourism. It will also add to the local government’s tax coffers, which will mean more resources for promoting San Miguel and for other services that benefit short-term rentals as well as hotels.
Although the regulation on short-term lodging businesses was legalized in January, authorities have yet to specify how they plan to pursue the matter. However, all short-term rental properties in San Miguel are now required to have the land-use permit or they can be shut down.
Currently the government is working on a campaign to invite owners of such properties to apply for their required land-use permits. Officials say it is a simple procedure, a matter of simply bringing the appropriate documentation to the Dirección de Desarrollo Urbano (Secretary of Urban Development).
The following is a list of the required documents:
• A copy of the property deed
• A copy of the most recent real estate taxes paid on the property
• A copy of a letter of clearance from the Civil Protection Department
• A copy of a receipt of the property’s latest water payment to SAPASMA
• A map of the site
• A photograph of the property
• A copy of the property lease, if the property in question is being leased
• An original letter of clearance from the property owner (in instances where the
short-term-rental business owner is someone other than the property owner)
• A carta poder, a letter designating power of attorney to the person making the permit
application, if that person is a designated proxy of the owner or lessee.
• A copy of the property owner’s national identity card (INE), or their passport, if they
are a foreigner
• A copy of the INE of the person doing the application process, if it is not the property
• A copy of a third-party liability insurance policy taken out on the property
Up until this year, the record number of homicides in San Miguel was 29 in 2011. However, between January and July 2019, according to the Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (National System of Public Safety), San Miguel has registered already well beyond that record—a total of 53 homicides, including the deaths of two policemen, whose murderers have been detained, and of two young girls who police say were innocent bystanders killed by stray bullets in a gunfight that erupted between two groups of criminals.
According to Olalde, the decrease in tourism has to do with insecurity.
“But it’s temporary,” he said. “We need to change people’s perceptions. Those of us who are professionals are charged with providing secure conditions and good services so that tourists do return. San Miguel is our home, and we will defend her at any cost.”
In March, after Operation Golpe de Timón, the state and federal government’s joint assault on organized crime in Santa Rosa de Lima, Guanajuato, the state was determined to be the most violent in the nation. However, Sofia Huett López, the Comisionada de Seguridad del Estado (State Security Commissioner) told Atencion that it’s important to keep the statewide numbers in perspective for tourist cities like San Miguel.
“We all need to understand the issue of Guanajuato,” she said. “The geographic distance makes us think that the entire state is in flames…We can’t allow the magnifying glass to focus on this.”
According to Olalde, local tourism interests are currently preparing a new publicity campaign to promote San Miguel as a safe, progressive city, with the slogan Aqui No (“Here we don’t”), which will use various offshoot promotional slogans such as Aquí no usamos plástico. (“Here we don’t use plastics”) or Aqui no permitimos la delincuencia (“Here we don’t allow crime”).
However, a problem, Huett López says, is that people traveling from far away hear crime statistics about the state of Guanajuato and think that applies to the cities they would visit, like San Miguel and Guanajuato.
“The municipalities with concentrated numbers of homicides are Yuriria, Salvatierra, and Apaseo,” she said. “For those who live out of state, or out of México, if we tell [tourists] that [the majority of crime] is in the southern parts of the state, where there is no tourism, we would be doing much to help them gain peace of mind for their trip.”
The Dangers of Unregulated Short-Term Rentals
On November 15, 2017, Edward Winders and Bárbara Moller—both 76, both from Burnt Hills, New York—came to San Miguel de Allende on vacation and found lodging in an Airbnb home in colonia San Antonio. After they were checked in by their contact, nothing was heard from them after the first day. Then, two days later, someone responsible for the house went over to check on them and found both of them dead.
The Ministerio Público (Attorney General’s Office) determined that the death was the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The families of the victims had to contend with various problems prior to being able to bring the bodies to the United States. Among these were language barriers and the fact that the Attorney General’s office was holding the bodies while it pursued an ongoing investigation.
To date, the Subprocuraduría de Justicia (Deputy Attorney General) has not yet provided a resolution to this case.