Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Dark Side of Cabo San Lucas - Part 1

The Gringo Gazette is an English-language newspaper founded by Carrie Duncan, published every other week for the American expatriate communities in Baja California Sur, Mexico. It has been published since 2001 and most of its contributors are Americans living in Mexico or Americans with a second home in Mexico. Last March 29th, Ms. Duncan printed a controversial editorial, which has been widely discussed in the expatriate community. I am reprinted it here. In the next installment - Part 2 - I will show what the reaction to this editorial was in the Mexican press, specifically El Suncaliforniano, the largest newspaper in Baja California Sur.

Proposal To Reverse Los Cabos’ Decline In Tourism
Los Cabos is experiencing a loss of tourists because of the world economy, drug violence, and most of all the mistreatment of the tourists. The world economy is already improving, there is nothing we can do about the drug violence, but we can improve the shameful way we treat our tourists.

Just a few years ago we could get away with treating our visitors harshly, the only people who heard about it were the friends and family of the people who were mistreated. But nowadays all our bad deeds are exposed through the Internet by angry people who feel wronged.

Stories of how badly Los Cabos treats their visitors are all over the Internet. Worse, almost everyone who is contemplating coming to Cabo looks at the Internet for information when they’re thinking of coming here. Our reputation scares them from even booking their trip. Waiters steal credit card numbers and buy merchandise on it before our tourists even get home. Waiters pad bills. The waiters at Senor Frogs are actually picking pockets of cruise ship visitors. Dozens of times a day the police pull drivers over and frighten them into giving them money. The federal police commonly work the highway to the airport, taking the passport from the visitor, and threatening they will miss their plane if they do not give the police money. The tourist police can not be expected to police the police, they are on the same team and have to get along with them.

The police in downtown Cabo San Lucas constantly prey on foreigners, picking them up late at night and threatening to plant drugs on them if they don’t give them money. The city police also are known to force tourists to go to an ATM and draw out hundreds of dollars to give to them. Many of the gas stations, especially those close to the airport, short change the tourists who drive rental cars. Many times doctors and clinics extort large amounts of money from our visitors, and if they resist, the police are hired by the hospitals to scare the money out of the foreigners. Many doctors will not sign the documents necessary by insurance companies to air evacuate a foreigner out of the country until they are paid thousands of dollars in extortion.

And where can these foreigners turn to? The law? The law is the problem. One foreigner, a Realtor in Cabo San Lucas, went to the Ministerio Publico for help and the Ministerio Publico told him he could make the problem would go away if he were given $40,000 pesos! Extortion by what we would call the district attorney’s office!

The government is the problem.Therefore we can not look to government officials for the solution. 
The Solution
We who make our living off the foreign community must protect our income by protecting our tourists. We need to organize volunteers to patrol the hot spots of trouble, and they should wear a distinctive purple shirt that says tourist assistance on it. These volunteers will stand by any foreigner they see stopped by the police and assure that they are treated fairly. They should also pop into the local hospitals several times a day and ask foreigners sitting in the waiting room if they have any problems with the hospital administration. They should  also stand watch around the malecon when the cruise ships are in port, and protect them from pickpockets and thieves.

The volunteers wearing the purple shirts can best be drawn from the hotels, restaurants, shops and sports activities that are dependent on the tourists. Even the timeshare companies can pitch in employees. If each company volunteered the services of just two of their English speaking employees once a week, we would have plenty of volunteers to cover San Jose and Cabo San Lucas. It is important that these volunteers only work as vigilantes occasionally, so they don’t go into cahoots with the police and become part of the  problem.

We need two volunteers in purple shirts to work the airport. One person to greet our visitors as  they come out of immigration and customs and into the waiting room. Approach them with a smile and a flyer listing tips on what they should do if they encounter a problem. There should be a phone number, (with dialing instructions), on that flyer, and we need to monitor that phone number with an English speaking tourist advocate. The second airport volunteer should be in the area where tourists are waiting for their flight to leave. They should pass out questionnaires titled, “How Did We Do?” which will pinpoint problem areas that we may not be patrolling and it will show how much we care about our guests’ satisfaction and safety. Participating merchants can be given stickers for their windows, displaying the “Los Cabos Is Tourist Friendly” logo, and enlisting those merchants into our program.

Use The Internet To Tell Everyone How We Have Changed

The second part of this plan is telling the world how much we care for our foreigners’ comfort and safety and that it is again safe to come to Los Cabos. We need to tell them the extraordinary steps we’re taking for them. We launch an advertising campaign promoting our program and conveying our slogan. Los Cabos is Tourist Friendly. If the Visitors Bureau or the Hotel Association or CANIRAC or even the federal tourist ministry has any money to promote us, let’s try to break off from promoting the entire country, which the foreigners know has problems, and promote Los Cabos as an island of tranquility and safety in Mexico.
In addition to whatever money can be spent on this  campaign of information in the U.S. and Canada, I suggest we fight back on the Internet. It’s been used against us, now let’s use it for us. For not much money we can hire a young fellow to spend several hours a day writing blogs, working Facebook, Trip Adviser, and posting good news about Los Cabos, including pictures and stories about our vigilante program. If we start this program right now we can turn our reputation from bad to good by the start of next season.
In Part 2 I will show the Mexican press reaction to this editorial.