Academic journal article Material Culture

Material Ecology and the Culture of Resort Re-Development on Cozumel

Academic journal article Material Culture

Material Ecology and the Culture of Resort Re-Development on Cozumel

Article excerpt

Abstract: In 2011, President Felipe Calderón's (2006-2012) administration led an initiative to restore Mexico's tourism industry by encouraging new developments, investments, and revitalization - particularly in well-known resort areas like Cancún, Cozumel, and the Riviera Maya, attempting to overcome the decline over the past decade, of the country's third largest industry - tourism. These "improvements," however, may contribute over time to the degradation of the natural and cultural heritage that attracts visitors, even though laws have been put in place to protect those very artifacts. This study explores the impress of the tourism industry on Cozumel, using geographer Richard Butler's effective Tourism Area Life Cycle model as an analytical framework to understand how the industry changes overtime. Also, it builds on geographer Jeffrey Smith's work, which outlined three generations of resort evolutions in Mexico, by exploring the development and re-development of Cozumel - a first generation resort. Specifically, this study considers some of the myriad elements of material culture that relate to tourism to understand how Cozumel, as a tourist destination, has changed over time.

Keywords: conservation, Cozumel (Mexico), land use, material culture, tourism area lifecycle


Myriad elements of material culture imbue the spaces of tourism. These elements offer us a fount for the exploration of the ways people adapt and sustain places in order to remain competitive in the tourism industry and so that those places endure for posterity. The beach resort category is unique in the world of tourism; and the material culture of Cozumel, Mexico, the country's original "cradle" of tourism in the Mexican Caribbean, is representative of a typical beach resort (Figure 1) (Torres and Momsen 2006, 59). The atmosphere is the epitome of "laid-back" and often the result of major behind-the-scenes efforts. The parks of Cozumel celebrate, advertise, and preserve the flora, fauna, and relics of the past. Roads, vital for transporting goods, services, and people, exist where there otherwise would not be roads. Docked cruise ships bustle with activity as passengers exit to take in attractions on the island. Temporary visitors - crewmembers and tourists - are such a constant presence that they may as well be added to the general population. Cozumel's environment is inviting, but natural disasters threaten the area.

Like many geographers, I explore new places to learn and to understand the why of the where. Since 2007, I have visited a few of Mexico's resort areas and became intrigued with the ongoing development along the Yucatán coast and on Mexico's Caribbean islands, in particular on Mexico's largest Caribbean island, Cozumel. Over the past few years I have not only observed the aforementioned elements but also the processes of cultural landscape change along Mexico's Caribbean coast. I have talked informally to English-speaking residents, hotel employees, tour guides, and visitors, trying to understand change and preferences in the tourism industry.

Cozumel's tourism material culture continues to evolve. Additions to Cozumel's tourism landscape include a yacht club, elaborate resort hotels, and updating older sites with new amenities - efficient appliances, water-saving technology, and new signs that advertise such efforts and that request that guests reuse their towels or use recycle bins next to the bar to recycle the ubiquitous plastic cups, straws, cans, and bottles. Similarly, signs on catamarans encourage snorkelers and divers to use biodegradable sunscreen to protect the fragile coral reef ecosystems are signatures of a changing tourism material culture. As I weighed my landscape observations on Cozumel against literature in various periodicals and scholarly journals, I became particularly interested in a larger research theme: changes in a tourism-based material culture as reflected in hotels, parks, signage, guided tours, and the packaging of the signatures of heritage, like the Mayan relics and ecology of Cozumel (Figure 2). …

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