In my life I’ve been very lucky to spend time and live in some desirable places: venues like Greenwich Village, Martha’s Vineyard, Little Compton Rhode Island, Chesapeake Bay, the coast of Maine. I took vacations to rare places like Tortola, the Leeward Islands and, years ago, Cozumel.
Now we learn that Cozumel, home to great scuba diving and laid-back Mexican charm, has been totally taken over by giant cruise ships. They disgorged some “1.2 million cruise ship passengers aboard 390 ocean liners in the first three months of 2023.” The place is now like St. Thomas and much of the Caribbean, host to hordes of vacationers seeking a charm that has vanished.
New York, the Vineyard—where we owned a small house—and even the fisherman’s backwater of Little Compton have been taken over by the rich and infamous who have transformed what was charming and unique into vacation spots for the masses with condos, hotels, Airbnbs, and freaks on mopeds.
You’re probably aware of how the process works. The word gets out from savvy travelers who tell their friends and cohorts about their wonderful discoveries. As in politics, word of mouth is a powerful change agent. Then come the speculators, sensing big profits, and the developers who build on models of what they know will sell.
The glowing reviews in respected travel publications just fan the flames and bring more vacationers who want a piece of the action. I wrote a blog last year about how some of us in Oaxaca respond to this.
Every new Travel+Leisure piece or New York Times article just brings in more of these vagrant deadbeats. They descend on us like the locusts. So we, or some of us, find a perverse joy in taking their money and making fun of them.
In smaller communities like Puerto Escondido, where I spend a good deal of time, demand can outrun supply, so prices go up and services go down. The infrastructure (water, health services, electric, internet, etc.) cannot keep pace. When my partner built a house here twelve years ago on a quiet street away from downtown there now loom five-story condos that are often in violation of the building codes. Trucks and construction noise abound. Real estate values skyrocket. Some old-timers want to move out.
One likely reason people are constantly searching for the perfect getaway is to escape from American culture. This is part of what drove me to Mexico some fourteen years ago. Today it’s the advent of Trump, the continuing tolerance of gun violence, the collapse of a working polity, the coarseness of American life, climate change—any or all can drive one to search for a better land.
And yet we know the transformation of good places into tourist havens has been going on for many years. It might be that laissez-faire economics also has something to do with this. People are encouraged to do whatever they want in the name of freedom, and desirable communities enforce few regulations. And many such places seem happy to sell out charm and uniqueness for the tourist dollar.