There wasn't a theme per se for this year's Los Cabos VIP Summit, held last week. But certainly the concept of sustainability informed much of the proceedings.
It was no surprise: Earlier this month, the state of Baja California Sur, where Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo are located, announced that on Nov. 9 it would launch its Fund for a Sustainable Baja California Sur initiative, asking visitors to contribute to state "programs, works and actions of high social impact," with a goal of raising nearly 500 million pesos (about $26 million) annually.
After media reports characterized the initiative as a tax, officials pointed out that the 350 pesos that would be asked of each visitor (about $18) was in fact a nonmandatory contribution. "While the contribution is established by state law, visitors who do not contribute cannot be compelled to do so," read a Nov. 2 statement sent to travel suppliers.
I can attest that upon arrival at San Jose del Cabo's airport, where officials said staffers would be on hand to enable payment of the contribution, I didn't feel any pressure to contribute to the fund. Actually, I couldn't figure out where it was being collected or who was collecting it; if kiosks or other payment stations were in the arrivals area, they were inconspicuous, though the fund's website does enable online payment. (If you're flying to Cabo over the next few weeks, I'd be interested in hearing about your experience as the initiative continues to roll out.)
The fund's website also has an FAQ section that ends with this question: "What happens if the fundraising goal of 500 million pesos is not met?" The answer reads, in part: "We are focused on the successful implementation and transparent communication of how travelers can contribute in the most convenient way possible, and we would not like to speculate on hypotheses at this time."
During the summit, I took part in a panel discussion with fellow travel journalists that touched upon sustainability and other tourism-related topics (and was moderated by my Northstar Travel colleague, TravelAge West executive editor Mindy Poder). We speculated about how willing visitors might be to contribute to this fund, and it reminded me of that FAQ answer, particularly the part about "transparent communication." I opined that while visitors might bristle at something like hidden fees, they would likely be far more receptive to a fund with the explicit, feel-good mission of sustainability, particularly if they don't feel like they've being coerced into paying.
Los Cabos is poised for a "healthy and solid 2019," Rodrigo Esponda, the tourism board's managing director, told me a few weeks back. The destination has seen an 8% increase in arrivals year to date and added more than 2,400 hotel rooms this year (including a Hard Rock Hotel, a Nobu and a Four Seasons), all of which helps secure Los Cabos' position as "the fastest-growing destination in Mexico," Esponda said. Next year will bring new routes from Dallas and Phoenix and an additional 1,350 hotel rooms.
During the second day of the summit, Maria Claudia Lacouture, former minister of commerce, industry and tourism for Colombia, gave a presentation titled "Sustainable Tourism: A Necessary Evolution" and afterward told our group that the fund was a step in the right direction.
"Los Cabos is an example of what sustainability can be," she said, not only in terms of implementing policies "but also involving the communities in the process." Given Los Cabos' continued success as a tourism destination, it seems reasonable to ask that the travel community be among them.