Karina Feitner, a senior Psychology major recently went on a Global Citizenship trip to Cozumel, Mexico! Cozumel is an island and municipality in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico‘s Yucatán Peninsula! Read more about some of her cultural experiences regarding Cozumel’s tourism below!
‘We want it to be authentic, but not too authentic.’
Karina: “This quote nicely summed up my experience and observations in Cozumel, Mexico this year. When I travel, I like it to be as “real” as possible, meaning staying in people’s homes, eating at local restaurants, going to the least touristy attractions etc. I grew up in a small town in rural western Massachusetts, and even going to New York City was stressful to me growing up, I really don’t like tourist culture, and unfortunately most major cities around Cancun have become tourist hubs.
Stepping off of the ferry onto the streets of Cozumel was like walking into Times Square, except on steroids. Immediately we were perceived as tourists and targeted by people trying to sell us a product. Cozumel is a destination point for cruise ships, which maintains the tourism industry. I had to ask myself: ‘Why we as a society buy into this industry?’
There are four types of travelers. First you have the people who travel for the sole purpose of being pampered and waited on hand and foot. These are the kind of people who will go on a cruise and never get off the boat.
Then, you have the type of people who are destination travelers, who will get off the boat but stay very comfortable, going to the major tourist hubs, and never really leaving their comfort zones.
Thirdly, there are the people who travel for relaxation and experience. These travelers will find a general destination, and then do research into interesting things to do.
Finally, you have the true explorers who tend to stay in home stays or hostels, and who make every day an adventure, adapting their trip as they go in order to see the most of what people tend to see the least.
This is why we fuel this sort of industry. If, by my estimate, three quarters of the travelers are really traveling to get away from their responsibilities and relax, then yes, we want to be waited on hand and foot, we are willing to pay a little more money if it means we have to do less on our vacation. That is exactly how Cozumel has developed its tourism industry. And yet there are a lot of problems that come along with this.”
THE ISSUES DISCOVERED:
- Garbage Disposal: “The citizens of Cozumel did a very good job of maintaining the cleanliness of their main roads and squares, basically wherever tourists were most likely to be, but there was a certain neglect to other major parts of the island. As soon as you got out of the hotel district, the amount of trash on the sides of the road became substantially more noticeable, and it shocked me that there weren’t people actively wanting to clean it up.”
- Increased Population: “There has been a substantial increase in population in the more urban part of the island, with people migrating towards the port and out of the more rural areas. This creates a problem because then there is no one really living in the parts of the island that need attention.”
- No Legislation: “There are no real policies or legislation in place to plan and execute the large-scale cleanup that needs to take place, and this is in turn partially due to money.”
- No Money: “Many of the companies that have footholds on Cozumel financially support various projects, but they are selective about it, only putting money towards what will immediately help them profit. Pollution cleanup around the island is, not one of the areas deemed important enough to warrant the financial commitment.”
Possible Plan of Action: “If I were to ever move to Cozumel I would want to clean up the island. It wouldn’t be too hard to reach out to schools on the island and find kids interested in environmental studies or sciences and create a program that allows and encourages students to do major cleanup around the island.”
THE SHIFT IN COZUMEL CULTURE:
“The culture and the economy are centered on pleasing another culture. This makes it difficult to support both themselves and cultivate a richer local culture.
Latin American cultures tend to be particularly rich with a group/family-centered mindset. They live in a collectivist culture, with many of their major values centered on group mindset and function, and where the family unit is usually very strong.
With tourism taking over, this collectivist culture is beginning to drift steadily towards an individualist culture, similar to what we have in the US. — shifting from family and community to economics and goods.
There is a rich history to some cultures that seems to be getting lost, and that worries me.”
Karina: “My trip was both educational and eye opening, reminding me that there are fundamentally different cultures that hold diverse values. I am not saying that the fundamental values are either right or wrong, but cultures function in different ways, with different systems of belief, government, and even family structures.”