A State of Perpetual Fantasy and Leisure:
A Brief Examination of Quintana Roo
Quintana Roo, Mexico’s youngest state, was created to facilitate a country wide need for economic stimulation. With the financial assistance provided by the United States, Mexico
funded the construction of infrastructure to connect the otherwise isolated state of Quintana Roo
to the center of the country. The infrastructure sent the state into overhaul, creating millions of
jobs and increasing the population by over 4000 percent. This paper gives a brief perspective of the state history, geography, and culture. The focus then shifts to analyze the main aspects of tourism based economy, while examining the three models used to establish a tourist destination.
A State of Perpetual Fantasy and Leisure:
A Brief Examination of Quintana Roo
Over the course of the past century the country of Mexico has experienced economic,
political, and cultural shifts. These shifts, which have happened in little less than 60 years, are
the direct result of initiatives to help strengthen the Mexican economy. With the aid of the
United State government, the Mexican federal government passed legislation, , which funded the
construction of infrastructure in the tourist industry sector, in order to open up isolated areas of
the country to an entire range of economically stimulating opportunities. These initiatives
focused primarily on building creating a desirable tourist destination within targeted Mexican territories, in particular the territory of Quintana Roo.
The federal government has created a booming tourism industry, which has been based
almost exclusively in the state of Quintana Roo. This paper will give a basic overview of the
geography and the geological make-up. Then walk through some of the more historically
significant aspects of the tourist industry of Mexico’s youngest state, and then move into
contemporary Quintana Roo, with its governmental, cultural, and economic structures. Finally, it
will focus on the basics of the Quintana Roo tourism industry.
II. Overview of the Geography and Geology of Quintana Roo
Quintana Roo is Mexico’s most eastern state, located on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Geographically, it is situated south and east of the Mexican state of Yucatán and east of the state of Campeche. Quintana Roo also borders the Caribbean Sea. Being one of the southern most
states in Mexico, Quintana Roo borders the Central American country of Belize. Quintana
Roo’s capital city Chetumal is located in the most southern tip of the state.
The state is approximately 20,000 square miles in land area (Administration 2005-2011:
State Plan of Development). A notable feature of Quintana Roo’s landscape is the dense jungle,
which dominates the interior area of the state. Discoveries of large Mayan archaeological
complexes have been uncovered in the last century due to the development of large portions of this jungle. The uncovering of such sites often adds to the adventure for tourists wishing to have the “Indiana Jones-like” experience.
Another dominant geographical feature is the large number of freshwater lagoons and swamps. This is mostly due to the abundant amount of precipitation, which accumulates after a
heavy tropical storm. The result of such storms is a complex network of underground rivers,
which feed freshwater vents that pour into lagoons and mangrove swamps situated behind any given beach. Often during the course of development of these beachfront areas the swamps are drained and constructed over (Pi-Sunyer 1997: 196-7). Ecological consequences, such as erosion
and water pollution in the lagoons, have huge implications on the overall marine and aquatic wildlife. The inland freshwater deposits also impact the offshore barrier reefs; such reefs are a
huge draw for tourists who wish to scuba dive or fish, as the freshwater carries necessary
nutrients and minerals to the marine life living in the reefs.
The geological composition of the state of Quintana Roo is primarily based on the coastal regions. This means that most of the landscape’s composition is sand and stone covering porous
calcite bedrock. The interior landscape of the state, has great agricultural potential, but is mostly
taken up by the dense jungles. What land that is available is predominantly taken by the tourist industry, which takes precedence over any other industries in Quintana Roo. This most often
leads to a lack of soil fertile enough to sustain large amounts of crops (Pi-Sunyer 1997: 197).
III. Overview of the History of Quintana Roo
Quintana Roo is the youngest state in Mexico, in that it was established as the thirty-first federal state on October 8, 1974. The state’s constitution was ratified on January 12, 1975 (Pi-
Sunyer 1997: 187). Prior to 1974 Quintana Roo had been a federal territory and was generally accepted as a part of the neighboring state of Yucatán. Because the interior of the state is
comprised mostly of dense jungles and without roads, travel to the coastal regions was almost
impossible by conventional means, such as cars, buses, and trains. With that, there was little, if
any, outside communication with the territory and so the indigenous people who had sought refuge during the Spanish conquest set up villages. These villages were autonomous and had no
consolidated central government until mass tourism was introduced in the early 1970s, with the
construction of some of the first highways linking the greater part of Mexico to the isolated area (Oxford 2000: 585-6). After seeing the success of transforming the city of Acapulco into a tourist hotspot, the first National Tourism Congress of 1953 decided to transform the eastern coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula, in particular the village of Cancún, into a major vacationer’s
destination. According to census data collected in the 1950s the approximate population of Quintana Roo was 26,967 people (Pi-Sunyer 1997: 195). After the construction of major
infrastructure, central Mexico was connected to the eastern peninsula. This opened up and
entirely new job market, and brought construction workers and general labors, which bolstered
the population. With a steady population growth the state presently has an approximate population of 1.13 million citizens, which is a 4090 percent increase in little less than sixty years (Administration 2005-2011: Population).
The increase in population is mainly due to the newfound accessibility of the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the prospect of new service-based jobs. These jobs were created
when tourist hotspots such as Cancún and Cozumel began to develop. Extravagant vacations
created need for laborers to maintain the fantasy, and so the tourism industry created nearly two million jobs in a matter of a few decades. A large migrant population moved from the states of Yucatán and Veracruz seeking highly sought after jobs. One segment of the general population
that was overlooked was the indigenous Mayan peoples who, by the 1980s, had become the
minority in Quintana Roo, and who remain the largest indigenous group in Mesoamerica (Pi-Sunyer 1997: 188). However, unlike the emigrants from other states, the Mayans did not have
any sort of access to standardized education and jobs. This trend continues on into contemporary Quintana Roo, as the Mayan population is continually marginalized in favor of foreign markets and peoples to fulfill the needs of the nearly sixty-year-old industry (Canak 1998: 95).
IV. Overview of Contemporary Quintana Roo
Like the United States and Canada, Mexico is a federalist system. This means that
government power is split between a central or federal government and sub-national governments. Quintana Roo, which is one of the thirty-one state governments, has nine
municipalities. Municipalities, which had been introduced during the Spanish conquest and then were officially sanctioned in the Mexican constitution of 1917, are used to divide a Mexican
state into nearly autonomous sub-state governments. Each municipality is charged with
administrating all of their own public works projects (Oxford 2000: 20). This system is
beneficial for the divided and isolated state of Quintana Roo. The capital city, Chetumal, is
isolated and removed from the rest of the state. Therefore, this seclusion from the rest of the
country and the capital makes the sub-state municipalities an integral part of the general practices
of the state. The three basic branches of government are observed: the state legislature,
executive branch headed by a governor