History of Mexican Tourism: A Historiography

Mexico, like other developing nations, continues to look to tourism as a means of generating economic returns and foreign revenue. Much of the country’s tourism is concentrated in coastal areas. Indeed, coastal tourism has become one the fastest growing areas in Mexico. However, despite the importance of tourism to Mexico, the literature on its historical development remains underdeveloped.

Generally, scholars acknowledge the lack of a comprehensive body of literature on the history of Mexican tourism, and its evolution. Yet, despite acknowledging the lack of literature, scholars have done little to expand the field. However, there are a few outliers among them, Michael Clancy, and Dina Berger. In this paper, the writer provides a historiography of some of the influential scholars of Mexican tourism.

One of the most influential works on the development of Mexican tourism is by Dina Berger. In her book “The Development of Mexico’s Tourism Industry: Pyramids by Day, Martinis by Night ,” Berger argues that the Mexican tourism industry emerged during the revolutionary era of state building and acted as a tool through which the government could shape narratives about nationalism and identity of the Mexican people.

She supports her argument by noting that in the late 1920s, the tourism industry was largely supported through private initiative. Private groups such as the Mexican American Automobile Association and the Mexican Tourism Association cooperated with Bank of Mexico to promote tourism and travel. State involvement in the industry was slow. However, state involvement was gradual, with the government collaborating with private organizations between 1930 and 1935 to chart a course on how to develop tourism. Berger further argues that United States played a key role in the development of tourism in the country.  Berger argues that United States travellers led to the emergence of a viable tourism industry in Mexico.

The arguments of the role of American travellers in the development of Mexican tourism are further supported by the conclusions of John Britton in “Revolution and Ideology: images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States .” Britton argues that tourism in Mexico appears explicitly as a symptom and symbol of American informal imperialism that characterized the relationship between United States and other countries, especially Latin American countries.

According to Britton, the United States considered Mexico as a backward country characterized by ethnic inferiority especially prior to the 1930s.However, with changing attitudes towards the country beginning in 1930’s there was a considerable interest in Mexican tourist sites and their cuisine. It was during this period that tourism in Mexico began to grow.

Michael Clancy’s book “Exporting Paradise: Tourism and Development in Mexico ” provides a glimpse on the historical development of Mexico beginning in the mid-60s to 2000. According to Clancy, the government in the 60’s had become aware of the importance of tourism in the economy of Mexico. The government sought to experiment with import substitution as a means of promoting tourism.

The Mexican government participated through infrastructure development, international marketing, tourist policies, laws and loans to industries to promote Mexican sites and cuisine to foreigners. However, the government promoted beach tourism, as compared to other aspects of tourist such as nature tourism and historical monuments. This might explain why beach tourism is more successful in the country as compared to other aspects of Mexican tourism.

Rebecca Schreiber in her book “Cold War Exiles in Mexico: U.S Dissidents and the Culture of Critical Resistance ” provides an in-depth analysis of how black and communist exiles from the United States changed the narrative about Mexican culture. Beginning in the 19th century, Mexican emerged as a refuge for political dissidents, including black slaves. African Americans who moved to Mexico were familiar with Mexican culture, and this population was integral in the promotion of Mexican culture.

On the other hand, political dissidents who were exiled to Mexico after the Second World War produced film, critical works and media that refuted the U.S government narrative of Mexico as a backward place. With the Mexican state sanctioning tourism beginning in the late 1930’s, tourism grew. The narratives and works of the dissidents and black exiles was essential in changing the narrative and perception of American citizens on Mexican cuisine and tourist destinations.

Michael Clancy “Tourist and Development: Evidence from Mexico” provides a glimpse into the Mexican tourism after the 60s . Clancy argues that prior to the 1960, the tourist industry was largely market driven. However, in the late 60’s the government intervened constituting the National Tourism Development Trust Fund and other agencies to promote the development of the Mexican tourist industry and also regulate the industry.

Prior to the time, the industry had largely been successful owing to its proximity to the United States. Foreign tourism was limited to border regions and Mexico City. However, this would change with government intervention. Together with private investors, the government spearheaded the planning of new resorts including Huatulco, Loreto, Los Cabos, Ixtapa, and Cancun.

Unlike other developing nations, state intervention was important to the development of the Mexican tourist industry. Public agencies first embarked on autonomous projects, but would later intervene in the market to ensure that resources were utilized in the right manner. State action, according to Clancy can best be understood in the larger perspective of the Mexican government on how to approach economic development.

Three decades prior to its active intervention in the tourism industry, the Mexican government had experimented with import substitution. While the approach produced the “Mexican Miracle” the government continued to struggle to promote viable economic growth. State intervention was essential not only in promoting tourism growth, but also improving receipts, and arrivals. There are two strategies that the government employed to support the industry.

First, it sought to build new chains of hotels and acquire those that were bankrupt. The second strategy was to provide incentives by providing loans to private investors. According to Clancy, government intervention had its benefits. Mexico was able to add more than 300,000 rooms between 1974and 1992. Thus, according to Clancy, the Mexican tourist industry and its success can be attributed to state intervention in the 60’s and consequent actions over the next three decades.


An analysis of the literature on the Mexican tourist industries shows how tourism in the country evolved over time. Prior to the 1930s, there was minimal state input or intervention in the industry. While the government did intervene in the industry in the next 30 years, interventions were minimal. State intervention in the 60s was more significant and shaped the industry and the current status of the industry can be attributed to state intervention. A historical analysis of the tourist industry shows how different players, and the proximity to a major economy shaped the Mexican tourist sector.


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