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How Did Mexico Build Cancun from Scratch?

The federal government did not chance upon Cancun while intending to develop a completely new vacation metropolis from the ground up. How did Mexico create Cancun from the ground up?

In 1968, Mexico chose the location, a nine-mile stretch of jungle island off the coast of Quintana Roo, using computer models and all of a developed nation’s greatest minds and technological know-how.

Why Did The Government Decide To Construct A Resort?

Antonio Enriquez Savignac, the 40-year-old, Harvard-educated head of Infratur or the Fund for the Promotion of Tourism Infrastructure, was discovered on the top floor of a Banco de Mexico building just off Alameda Square in central Mexico City with his team of specialists. Infratur was the Banco de Mexico organization in charge of the government’s initial foray into the resort market.

Money. That’s what Enriquez had to say when asked why the government decided to build a resort. 

Tourists imply money, and the government delegated the task of constructing Mexico’s tourist infrastructure to the Bank of Mexico, our counterpart of the Federal Reserve Board.

Antonio Enriquez Savignac, Head of Infratur

In 1967, the federal government set aside a US$2 million fund to be handled by the bank to assess the viability of establishing additional recreational zones, ideally where no other feasible development alternatives exist.

Cancun’s development was permitted in 1969 and started in 1970 with constructing a road from Puerto Juarez and a tiny airstrip. (Source: Yucatan Magazine

What is Infratur’s Objective?

Intrafur was founded to promote regional economic growth, particularly in areas with substantial unemployment. 

We knew exactly what we wanted to build—a resort that would attract a massive flow of tourists from the United States. But before we could obtain the go‐ahead, we had to convince the government that tourism was the fastest-growing, most dynamic sector of economic growth in the world.

Antonio Enriquez Savignac, Head of Infratur

Infratur was given the authority to purchase property to prevent speculation at the places it sought to develop and to encourage private investment by providing the necessities like airports, bridges, and roads, as well as water, electricity, and telephone service.

As bankers, we addressed this from a banker’s perspective, taking into account everything quantifiable, entering it into a computer, and leaving nothing to chance. We noted, for example, that the number of Caribbean visitors from the United States had increased from 400,000 in 1961 to 1.5 million in 1969 and that even with the recession, this figure would exceed 2 million in 1972. In other words, we needed to demonstrate that American visitors were traveling further and staying longer.

Antonio Enriquez Savignac, Head of Infratur

The Infratur planners decided that any viable location would have to have excellent year-round weather, with endlessly blue sky and even bluer oceans, as well as white-sand beaches bordered with towering palms. Furthermore, the location would need to have drinkable water, an abundant supply of local workers in need of work, few insects or snakes inland, and fewer sharks offshore. Hotels, golf courses, and marinas – as well as visitors – would follow. (Source: Yucatan Magazine)

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