Mass Tourism And Damage in Tourism

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27th Apr 2017 Tourism Reference this


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Chichen Itza is a famous tourism and archaeological site in Mexico. It is situated in the Yucatan Peninsula state of Mexico. Chichen Itza was built by the Mayas, one of the oldest existing habitations of Mexico and the world. The site was also known “Uucyabnal”, which means “Seven Great Rulers” (Henderson,1997). It is located at approximately 25 miles southeast of the city of Merida. It is also known as one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. In year of 1988, it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Since 2007, when Chichen-Itza’s “El Castillo” (Kukulkan Pyramid) was named in the list as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World after a worldwide vote, the number of visiting tourists increased by 75 per cent. Now the Mexican tourism board is expecting to double this tourist number by 2012. Almost 2.5 million tourists visited Chichen ltza in 2009 (Mexico tourism statistics, 2010).

The pyramid of Kukulkan, the Feathered Serpent God (also known as Quetzalcoatl to the Toltecs and Aztecs) is the largest and most important ruin structure at Chichen Itza. The old Spaniards (Mexico was ruled by Spain in past) called it El Castillo, which means the Castle. However, the pyramid does not look like a castle and in old times it was used for religious and astronomical purposes.

This legendary ninety-foot tall pyramid was built during the 11th to 13th centuries. The basic structure is based upon the previous pyramid (Barkin, 2000). The architecture of the pyramid shows some specific information about the old Mayan calendar, it is directly linked to the solstices and equinoxes. According to equinoxes two times a year there is an illusion of a snake, which is created by the sun, the pyramid has a set of 91 steps each side, which when linked together with the shared step of the stage at the top, total 365 steps which is indicative of the number of days in a year.

The core ball court was the biggest ball court of those times, the size of the ball court is 166 x 68 meters and the sides are lined with sculptures of ball players (similar to the game of basketball). El Caracole (the central pyramid), or the Snail, is a round building with a twisting staircase that served as an observatory. The pyramid contained various instruments to help determine important dates and details in the Mayan calendar. Particularly, the equinox and the solstice were important in view of astronomy. An interesting and famous fact by the Mayan calendar is December 21, 2012 as this is the last day of the earth which is also depicted as “doomsday” (Tencati, 2007). This site is open almost every day of the year during the hours of 8 am to 5 pm. There is a light and sound show performed at 7 pm every day to attract tourists. Research says, this light and sound show is very harmful for Chichen Itza in view of sustainability.

Management issues at the site

1. Mass Tourism and Damage

1.1 Current and Future of Mass Tourism

Since the late 1930s tourism has grown worldwide. Due to the fact that after World War II western people were crucial in introducing free time and leisure activities to the working class, consequently there is more spending money for holidays (Judd & Fainstein, 1999). This phenomenon has been the major cause in the increasing volume of tourism in Mexico. In the book “Archaeological Tourism” Walker (2009) refers to four H’s of cultural or indigenous tourism: habitat, history, handicrafts and heritage researched by Valene Smith (1996): habitat means the geographic setting and underlying platform for the visit. History implies post-contact relations between Westerners and aboriginal groups. Handicrafts often are created for souvenirs and made from local goods, which are relative to the market demands of tourism. Lastly, heritage refers to the body of knowledge and skills associated with human survival in terms of individual values and beliefs. In this case, the tourism interaction of Chichén Itzá offered all of these elements and more.

Chichén Itzá and its dominating features have become the symbol of Mexico for example; the pyramids of Kukulcán and El Catillo. The achievements of the Mayan Riviera in astronomy are also widely known in the cycles of the heavens namely in the Maya calendar. As a result, there is an influx of visitors to Mexico who are timing their travels, to coincide with astronomical phenomena.

Furthermore during the spring and fall equinoxes, the pyramid presents a graphic depiction of darkness and light, symbolizing day and night. The sun of the late afternoon creates the illusion of a snake creeping slowly down the northern staircase (The University of North Carolina, 2011), large crowds of visitors come to the site to view this spectacle. Juan Jose Martí Pacheco, a secretary for the Tourist Promotion of Yucatan has identified the number of visitors to Chichén Itzá has increased by 75 percent since being named a wonder of the world (New 7 Wonders, 2010). In addition the number of tourists expected to visit Chichén Itzá will double by 2012 (Lyn M, 2008).

In response to this influx of tourists for the near future, the World Heritage Alliance (an international organization which is responsible for supporting World Heritage conservation, sustainable tourism and local economic development for communities in and around UNESCO World Heritage sites). Is working with the Secretary of Tourism for Mexico and the Mexican Tourism Board, along with the founding partners of the World Heritage Alliance, Expedia, Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPE) and the United Nations Foundation, have extended more partnership to promote and preserve World Heritage sites especially Chichén Itzá through 2012 (Consejo de Promoción Turística de México, 2007).

1.2 Carrying Capacity Management

The impact of over tourism is also related to the natural resources in Chichén Itzá. Many archaeologists are concerned about the public consequences of their research and restoration in heritage sites and are making important efforts to provide archaeologically and environmentally responsible, sustainable, and educationally sound contributions to local communities and national governments (Walker, 2009).

In particular the responses of local government, the Nature Conservancy and the Rainforest Alliance have been working to build capacity for conservation by working with local communities and promoting sustainable livelihoods that support forest health and biodiversity conservation in the Maya Forest region (Ayen, 2007). On the other hand the planning for the construction of water management in the ancient city of Chichén Itzá takes into account practical considerations for the needs of a growing population, as well as preventing flooding during the rainy season that may be the cause of architecture collapse (Rocio, Osorio & Schmidt, 2009).

1.3 Security in Mass Tourism

The security concerns separate into two issues. First is the security of their own material patrimony such as artifacts on display in a museum, monuments and archaeological materials. Second is the safety and comfort of visitors. Breglia (2006) explained that preventive measures at that site included the installation of ropes or chains to assist in climbing certain structures and to prohibit public access to others. The stairs of the structure are narrow footholds and also difficult for visitors to navigate even under dry conditions. Moreover, there is no an official policy to warn visitors against climbing, even when the lightest rains turn climbing into a slippery and dangerous undertaking.

Although tourism is the only product where the consumer must go to the source to consume, this is more apparent in the Maya world where major archaeological destinations namely Chichén Itzá in Mexico, expected in the order of over million visitors a year (Meethan, Anderson & Miles, 2009). However, citing concerns over safety after various incidents of death and serious injury that visitors have sustained over the years at Chichén Itzá, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Mexico has closed down most of the popular monuments to solve the tourist traffic problem on the site (Cyark, 2011). For instance, El Castillo, the main pyramid of Chichén Itzá was closed after a tourist fell to her death in 2006. In addition, the Jaguar Throne room was also closed down in 2007.

2. Vendors

The next problem on this site is the local vendors, who try to sell local craft carved stone, cheap price Mexican cloth and food. This site has more than 500 vendors in the corridor of the pyramid. These vendors create some big hassles for tourists and management because they try to up sale their vending items to the tourists. The more important thing is that these vendors have unstructured shops in the protected area of the pyramid. During the season, this number reaches in the thousands. The visual appeal of site is affected by their tables and blankets in the park. Almost every tourist is affected by these vendors and their push selling strategies.

The federal government has developed a new plan for these vendors. The director of Regional Programs on site, Juan Carlos Arnau says, “There is a project to build a space outside the archaeological zone for the sale of crafts and to offer complementary productive alternatives for the local communities”. This plan is in progress with coordination of the state government of Yucatan and diverse local municipal governments. But yet, there is no defined date to start this project but it is targeted to finish by the year 2012.

3. Economic Inequality

Tourism in Chichén Itzá is a main source of economic growth in the Yucatán Peninsula. According to the book ‘Population, Development and Environment on the Yucatán’ Lutz, Prieto and Sanderson (2000) identified that the next 20 years of tourism in Yucatán Peninsula, tourism will be the most dynamic economic activity on Yucatán peninsula in both the short and medium terms. With the increasing tourism and population, it might be a main factor which affects environmental problems directly. Thus ecotourism should be a right technique to balance both a big amount of tourists and environment. Due to that fact that ecotourism is an accessible ‘Engine of economic growth’ which without excessively heavy investment can help a country generate foreign exchange and added to this is the hope it will be green and sustainable (Barrow, 2006).

Infrastructure Development

Improvements have been made in Yucatán since 1990, for example; the international airport and highway transportation system. The purposes of this practice is to provide a more accessible gateway to the ancient Maya site of Chichén Itzá and also to the new maquila plants opening around Valladolid (Baklanoff & Moseley, 2008). At this time, the main causeway under construction aims to access directly and indirectly to the center of the Chichén Itzá site, integrated by the Group of the Castle and the Group of the Thousand Columns, both built on top of the Great Leveling (Ruiz, 2009). Chichén Itzá has become the nexus of this great metropolis, and the strict internal political control that existed through this sophisticated network.

4. Land Ownership

Chichen Itza sold (A conflict between property owner and government is finished)

It is a great mystery for the millions of visitors around the world who trip to the site each year that, Chichen Itza has been privately owned for the past 500 years. On March 29, 2010, Hans Jurgen Thies Barbachano, owner of the 200 acre property on which some of the world’s most identifiable monuments stand, EL Castillo, the ball court and the temple of warriors, decided to sell his belongings to the state of Yucatan for $220 million Mexican ($17.6 million US).

This property war ended after more than a decade of debate between the property owner and the state federal government. Various stakeholders such as the vendors and the local people have been affected by this decision.

According to an interview of Barbachano Gomez Rul, brother of the property owner during the years of 2005 and 2006,the owner has received a certain percentage of tourist tickets sold. The owner has his own entrance gate and has developed his own hotel in front of the pyramid named the Maya land resort (Alright, 2000).

The owner said in interviews that he was not opposed to selling Chichen Itza, he only wanted a reasonable price, which he estimated at $250 million in US dollars which was a huge amount. According to the director of INAH at the time, Alfonso Maria y Fields, INAH made a formal offer for pyramid and that all archeological zone of $8 million Mexican, but again received no response from the owner. By the end of 2006 the owner was dead and his Chichen Itza property belonged to his grandson, Han Jurgen Thies Barbachano. The new owner had accepted the new deal of the government and Chichen Itza was sold to the state government for $220 million Mexican peso or $17.6 million US dollar, on 29 March 2010. Although, the owner is still waiting to receive the money, the principal parties signed a purchase contract in front of a press conference.

Jorge Esma Bazan, director of Yucatan’s Culture, illustrated a 10-point policy plan for the future of this archeological site. This policy regulation explained future work with cooperation INAH. This contract also has some points to discuss with vendors and try to find out a solution for them. The policy is focused on the creation more opportunities for the local Mayan people. The policy also illustrates future major tasks for the state government in the field of research and restoration of Chichen Itza.

Current Management Practices at the site

To support the growing tourism of Chichén Itzá in 2012, the government has to manage the main issue that is mass tourism. Dr. Steven Fly (2011), the author of Plugging Yucatán into the Tourism Circuit in Yucatán Living Online Magazine, mentions Plan Maetro Chichén Itzá (Master plan of Chichén Itzá) 2011 that this Yucatán tourism project is part of an integrated plan with the archaeological sites, two new attractions (Museum of the Maya World in Merida and Palace of the Maya Civilization) and the circuit of infrastructure.

With the large number of tourists predicted for the future, Chichén Itzá will not be the only place to encounter this fast tourism in the Yucatán. New attractions have been created for this reason. The Palace of the Maya Civilization is a museum which is proposed in Yaxcaba, located approximately ten kilometers from Chichén Itzá. The museum reveals the origins of the Maya world and includes a 300-seat IMAX theater and gift shop, a courtyard and outdoor amphitheater. Museum of the Maya World in Merida closed to the Siglo XXI convention centre on December 21, the significant date is from the belief of the Maya calendar, which is the end of the world in 2012. Moreover the government is also creating the tourist complex in Rio Largartoes city with government owned resorts and hotels. As well as a tourist intelligence information system offered by the state government will introduce tourists to the new attractions and will assist the state in a part of capacity management.

The circuit of infrastructure consists of the network of four features in the peninsula are archaeology, colonial, ecological and coastal circuits. These tourist circuits are redesigned and rebuilt roadways. In part of infrastructure in the Mayan World will be started with improvements and remodeling of the Chichén Itzá International Airport in Kaua. Next project will be the redesign and renovation of the Malecon in Progreso which is a major port that will have an increase in traffic due to several cruise ship lines each year. Finally, there is the construction of cross peninsular trenes rapidos (fast train) named “Bullet Train”. The major route will be across the Yucatán Peninsula, from Mérida to Chichén Itzá and Valladolid.

Recommendations for Sustainable Management

The state government should limit the numbers of tourists on the site per day and arrange a timetable by online reservation for group tours and individually.

To enhance security on the site, the government has to provide more infrastructures, for examples; the international public signs, the gates surrounding the site and general facilities.

Due to the mass tourism, the impact may lead to pollution problems in the future. Thus the government should prepare for waste management.

Local government and INAH should support the locality by buying the art works and refuse purchasing products from endangered animals or being offered illegal products. Moreover, most of indigenous products can be value added when displayed in art galleries and art museums.

Government should reduce the trading hours of the site. Currently its open 365 days consisting 10 hours each day. Possibly it should be 5 days a week for tourism sustainability.

Local government and INAH can buy this art and can sell to tourists in proper art gallery or can show in an art museum which is beneficial for both, vendors and government. Tourist can also enjoy this art in meaningful manner and can enjoy trip without vendors hassle.

Local Craft institute can be an option to support this art and vendors to educate the locals and vendors.


With support and promotion by the Mexican government, Chichén Itzá has become one of the globally well-known sites as the symbol of Mexico. Chichén Itzá is also faced with many management issues such as mass tourism, vendors, economic inequality and land ownership since being one of Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. As a result, the state government has to invest the budget in infrastructure, new attractions and accommodations to encounter an increasing number of tourists everyday. However, the side-effect of this practice leads to excessive tourism accessing the main attractions. Therefore, the government should start limiting the number of tourists allowed at the site. Due to the fact that uncontrolled tourism will damage existing structures, new infrastructure and nature. As well as the government needs to find the solution for the waste problem from over-visitation in the near future.

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