Wednesday, May 12, 2010

We are all in this together

Last year, we blamed the lack of reservations from April on to the H1N1 scare. I'm not sure what we can blame it on this year, but listening to the news gives me a pretty good idea of some possibilities.

The economy of many countries is bad, in some cases it is a crisis. Right here on the island it feels darn close to a crisis, I don't know how many are surviving. When we drive around, we see very few tourists. Restaurants are closing during non-peak hours and days. This month feels like September instead of May.

More and more locals are cruising the streets looking for scrap metal they can sell to the recycler. The other day we were broke and Miguel was able to scrape up about $10 by scavenging for scrap metal.

Other locals are going around with carts of kindling wood that they've gathered. Wood that can be used to cook food, saving on the cost of gas.

Cars, mopeds, and golf carts are for sale. In some cases much-needed methods of transportation are being sold off for the short-term need of cash.

Many properties are for sale - some beautiful homes owned by investors. The homes are not selling. Land is for sale - prime land along the shores. The land is not selling. Small plots of land and little concrete structures or even palapas have 'For Sale' signs posted throughout the colonias. And they are not selling.

Locals used to being employed in the construction business are forced to seek work outside of their skill set. Master bricklayers are taking jobs as painters, or assistants to workers in other trades. People are willing to take any kind of work they can find.

The other day we dropped by the dump to pass along a message to a friend of Miguel's. The men working there were in the process of sorting through all the bags of garbage, looking for anything salvageable or recyclable and putting it aside. The dump actually is a lot cleaner than it used to be, but I can't imagine having to open all those bags of garbage and sorting through them. Dirty work, but at least the men are working.

Surprisingly, there has not been an increase in people coming around asking for money; I last got hit up a few months ago by a family wandering through our colonia claiming they'd lost all their belongings in the fire in Guadalupana. No matter how bad your own situation looks, there are others much worse off than you.

I wonder if all the bad press Mexico has been getting over the drug violence is finally really hitting us hard and people are staying away. A few people I know back in Canada and the US have told me about the horrible stories they've read and seen on tv, not realizing that there are lots of places in Mexico that are as safe as their own place of residence.

I also think we have an over-supply of places to stay. We have a few new hotels, and those hotels have a lot of rooms. And more and more people are renting out all or part of their homes; tourists are going crazy trying to find the perfect place to stay amongst all the choices they have now. And the reality is that along with all the new hotels, there are an awful lot of very cute, comfortable places to stay here - places on the water, places in town, places in the colonias. There truly is something for everyone.

Recognizing that we are in low season, we have lowered the rent and are absorbing the cost of the air-conditioning in the units in an effort to stay competitive. But we can't compete with the big resorts and hotels that have partnered with airlines and travel sites to offer huge discounts to attract guests. Although many guests would probably not normally stay in those places, they can't turn down the savings. And in this economy, nobody can blame them.

This is a transition year for us, a year of working through the lack of employment income on my part and trying to minimize the withdrawals from taxable savings while we struggle through low season. The house needs painting, and there are other things that need attention. Maintenance - and no cash to 'maintain'. Next year will be better.

There is property in Oaxaca, property that can support us if we develop it as a business. Once again I am in awe of the patience of Mexicans - Miguel is talking about 10 or 15 years from now. My mind is on THIS year. He is probably closer to the reality though.

I have been pondering about writing this for a while, first thinking I should just keep my thoughts to myself. But today feels like the right time to write. We are broke, but looking around us, we're in good company, and we're still better off than many.


Life's a Beach! said...

Sue, I'm glad you wrote about it because I've been wondering. I see comments about the island being slow and some restaurants closing, but didn't know things were that bad. I've also seen the glut of homes on the market. I think the world economy is a huge factor. And then there's the airlines. The fares to Cancun right now are out of sight! I've been playing chicken trying to get a ticket for Craig to Cancun in early July. The fares right now from Phoenix are at $800 including the taxes. I've never paid more than $350 roundtrip for Cancun. I'm guessing not that many people can afford to pay that much for an airline ticket! We'll be coming even if I have to pay that much, but those fares have to be bad for tourism!

Jane said...

I'm glad you wrote this, and share your awe and appreciation for Mexican patience. And yes, we are all in this together, and wouldn't it be nice if everyone thought that way?

Vee said...

Yes, the island was pretty slow last week. I'm sorry we missed seeing you. I guess Friday was the only day we were both on the island. Next time...

Jackie said...

The high cost of air travel isn’t helping. As I told you I was planning on returning to Isla this month but when I tried to find airfare it was $850+++. Top that off with the checked luggage charges at it was just more than I was willing to pay. The ticket I bought for October is $125 more than I paid last October.

Anonymous said...

AirFare and the press are both to blame. The chargeing for luggage just adds additional grief since they charge both ways. We hadn't been down for awhile and I was surprised at the increase in resturant prices. My favorite place which we go a couple times a week we only went once.

IslaZina said...

I too am glad you wrote this! TVIslaMujeres says we are at 23 percent occupancy. I am leaving in June and have a friend staying here. There will be two rental weeks in the five that I am gone. I guess the cable and water will get paid! My house sitter is a former island resident from the South. He won't turn the AC on. But geez, it's tight. I don't blame the press for reporting what's going on in Mexico. I blame people for not know where in Mexico Isla Mujeres really is!

Sue said...

Beck and Jackie - I did not think about the cost of airline tickets, but you are right, that is another reason.

Jane - yes, it would. But there are a lot of people who do think that way, maybe there is still hope we can sort this world out?

Vee - sorry too, but guess there is always 'next time'.

Dujy - I was surprised at the rise in restaurant prices too (in town). We hardly ever go there so it was really a shock to see some prices about 50 pesos higher in what seems to me to be one year's time. We finally ate at Don Chepo's but I ordered guacamole and french fries instead of my usual dinner plate - just couldn't see paying that much for food.

Z - I blame the press as well as the people who, like you said, don't understand the country of Mexico - ignorance and 'group think'. But the press is so quick to put any negative news about Mexico into print, and then remind everyone of all the incidents in the last 5 years or so, regardless of the cause of the incident. and yes, it's scary - we are paying our expenses from my savings, there is nothing from the rent to even start to cover costs.

Unknown said...

Sue, thank you for allowing us to stay at your B&B. We felt like we were visiting family, not a hotel with staff who are indifferent. While I dont want to have to pay more as times are tough for us too, I do think you could charge more. Having a real Mexican breakfast on a patio overlooking the colonias with Loco & Blacky and all your gatos there to greet us at every turn...just loved it. No hotel can match that. It saddens me to see how things are getting tougher in Mx and I believe the media is more the cause than airfare. We live in Az were we are surrounded by those who dont understand anything outside of a 30 second news clip. Many here think that Mexicans are dangerous and unscrupulous and that they should all be deported...sad and frustrating. I personally think it is the other way around. 20 years of traveling to latin american countries and Iv had nothing but enjoyable experiences compared to the racist redneck culture Im surrounded by here at home....ugg. Maybe you can help IM with your website skills by advertising more than just room and board, but a real Mexican experience. Most Cancun/IM sites advertise snorkling, boating, etc...but none advertise the experience of going to a mercado in the colonias and eating Tikin-Xic on the beach. Maybe you could offer a translator service? or recommend to others who are bilingual to offer tours of the colonias with a translator. I think, for those who are not afraid to travel to Mx, many would welcome an opportunity to see more than t-shirt shops and snorkling. Just throwing ideas your way. Again, thank you for allowing us to stay with you...and I will be sending you my jerk chicken & columbian soup recipes in a few days...I have to get caught up here at home first :)

Islagringo said...

Excellent article and well written. You hit a lot of "nerve" points that need to be said. The cost downtown is ridiculous. If we want a "fancy" dinner now, we go to Seso Loco's. Great food, huge portions, nice atmosphere and friendly staff.

Sue said...

Troy - thanks for the suggestions, all need to be considered, especially as I am currently redoing our website. And thanks for the recipes!

Wayne - I went alone to Seso Loco's when Miguel was away. I liked how clean it was, I had a great waiter, and they have a good menu. I probably didn't order the right thing, it wasn't bad, just wasn't the best thing I could have ordered (chicken in mushroom sauce). We will have to go again if/when we can splurge, there was another thing on the menu I wanted to try.