Mexican tourist destination recognized by voters
BY RICARDO CASTILLO
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Guanajuato – Roaring enthusiasm hit little San Miguel de Allende last Wednesday after prestigious Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s readers declared the town number one in its annual “Top cities of the world” ranking.
It is the first Mexican tourist destination to win such an award, beating more famous destinations like Paris, Barcelona, Sydney and Kyoto. The magazine, which caters to a well-heeled clientele, received nearly 80,000 votes for it’s Readers’ 25 Cities in the World poll.
From shoeshine boys in the main plaza to top municipal officials, the pride over the number one ranking position is shared by all.
Restaurateur Bob Thieman, who runs the plush Hank’s New Orleans Oyster Bar, says that the ranking is beyond his wildest expectations, but then, “After living in San Miguel de Allende for 29 years, and having been to most of the Condé Nast competing destinations, I can’t help but agree.”
In fact, such was his love for the city that Thieman applied for Mexican citizenship and decided to live in San Miguel de Allende on a permanent basis.
Just as euphoric is the city’s Economics director María José Garrido.
In interview with The News, Garrido acknowledges that “readers of Condé Nast magazine voted for the top cities in the world and we won. It’s an achievement that has us thrilled.”
San Miguel de Allende Mayor Mauricio Trejo and an entourage will travel to New York, where Condé Nast has its headquarters, to receive the award.
“I think this administration,” says Garrido, “has a lot to do with it because it managed to unify all sectors of the tourism industry.”
The Trejo Administration, she added, took over one year ago, “and that’s exactly when voting began. All the stars lined up for us to win.”
“According to the Condé Nast voters, San Miguel de Allende has everything: good ambiance, delicious restaurants, culture and it’s a cosmopolitan city.”
A feature that garnered much attention from voters, according the Condé Nast’s description of San Miguel, is that the town “does not have any billboards or glittering ads. This generates a romantic landscape within a historically beautiful architecture.”
The city’s Tourism and Commerce Secretary Garrido agrees that the Trejo administration is also reaping the benefits of “previous work” which lured large hotel chains to set up shop in San Miguel de Allende.
“They invested in this city and they expect a return profit. This is the moment they were waiting for because this will attract, we hope, many tourists.”
Garrido was asked if the municipal government paid money for the award.
“No way, that is not for sale. Condé Nast Traveler is a prestigious editorial and that’s a recognition that is not paid for, you do not register to compete and they do not even let you know you are competing. It’s a genuine recognition award.”
In 2008, San Miguel de Allende was recognized by the United Nations Education Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage site, a title that is also much cherished by local business leaders and authorities.
Mexico boasts 10 cities that have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
María José Garrido says that SMA remains a major attraction for wealthy retirees, many of whom can afford to live in the finest spots in the world, yet prefer this colonial town in central Mexico.
Garrido says that after the unexpected news of the award was broken last Wednesday, the enthusiasm among the entire tourism industry grew.
“This was something everyone was hoping for,” she says “and now we must make the most of it.”
Yet some are concerned that an award of this type may bring a massive influx of tourists, which the town is not ready for. Hotel infrastructure is still very much limited to small operations — the largest hotel, Real de Minas, has 260 rooms — but the majority of visitors stay in bed and breakfast houses.
This is something that Garrido is not worried about.
“Condé Nast is not the means to bring mass tourism. We have never planned strategies to bring mass tourism. We do not want quantity but quality, people who can spend money. People who claim (otherwise) are ill informed. We’ve been criticized that we are aiming for an elite segment of travelers and that is true, we want quality tourists that do not come to damage the heritage we have.”
Garrido also acknowledges that poverty exists in San Miguel de Allende. “Of course there is poverty, but the only way to bring it down is with economic growth. It only comes with visitors, employment and generating traffic and awards like the one by Condé Nast will bring about new restaurants, new stores and more jobs.
“We’re looking forward to expanding the economy so that not everything is (centered) around the parish.”
Major Trejo’s plans for economic growth include the construction of a new convention center, currently underway. It is scheduled to open for business next March.
Businessmen like Hank’s restaurant owner Bob Thieman share María José Garrido’s enthusiasm. “San Miguel de Allende is a jewel not to be missed,” he says.