Cruising Through Progreso
Guest author Jonathan Ruiz writes for the Mexican financial paper, El Financiero. He has a special interest in the Yucatan, and has offered to write for Yucatan Living occasionally on subjects that come across his desk. In this article, he takes a look at the growing cruise business in Progreso and how the local businesses might consider improving their service for the cruceros who come ashore.
Business on the Street
Crestfallen, Carlos walks on the cool white sands of Puerto Progreso on a hot and sunny day in July.
“Business is not going well”, he tells a tourist that follows him to the Banana, a giant floating balloon that has the shape of the yellow fruit.
Carlos offers the Banana for rent for about three dollars to any person who wants to jump on it for a few minutes. Three dollars is good for a wild ride across the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico off this popular beach on the north side of the Yucatan Peninsula.
“Fewer and fewer people from the cruises are coming to this port. Probably half of previous years!”, he adds.
Carlos may be right about his lack of business, but he is quite wrong about the actual cruise numbers, according to official data.
Progreso Cruise Stats
Last year, Puerto Progreso ranked 6th in the numbers of cruises that dock at ports in Mexico, above places like Mazatlan, Sinaloa and Huatulco in Oaxaca. A total of 115 cruise ships arrived to the Yucatecan shore in the last year, in fact.
Progreso is second in the country when you take into account the size of the cruise ships that visit its dock, according to the number of passengers registered by the Mexican Government in each ship. Progreso saw 2,863 people arriving by ship in 2015. Only the island of Cozumel in Quintana Roo, with 3,157 passengers per ship, was ranked above Progreso in all of Mexico.
But here is where the numbers differ from Carlos' experience for his small business: despite the fact that Progreso received the same number of cruises in 2015 that it saw in 2010, the number of people coming onto land increased by 16 percent over those five years. 329,269 people arrived by cruise only in 2015, according to the Communications and Transportation ministry (SCT, in Spanish).
So, what is going on this year?
The trend appears to be continuing. From January to June, Progreso received 51 cruises with an average of 3,028 passengers, each.
The Problem With Progreso
So where is the problem? Apparently not as many cruceros are willing to visit the closest Yucatecan town to the dock.
“It has not been possible to increase the activity of tourism or sales (in Progreso), and this represents a difference from previous vacation seasons”, said El Diario de Yucatán, quoting the main local association of commerce and tourism business (Canaco Servytur).
José Abraham Daguer, leader of that organization, informed the public a month before through a press release that his organization was expecting a 7 percent increase in sales during this season.
However, so far this year only about 300 visitors get down from each cruise to have a walk on the beach or grab a beer at a local restaurant, according to local newspapers. When they do jump off and see the port, they do not seem to be spending as much money as Progreso's businesses are expecting.
Why is this happening?
“There is an issue of orderliness” said Abraham through a phone interview.
Progreso needs to improve its image, invest in infrastructure of the malecón and keep it clean, says the leader of the main state organization of retail, restaurants and hotel business people.
“There are a lot of dogs walking on the beach, and that is something that the local people don’t pay a lot of attention to. But this is the kind of thing that the foreign tourists are not comfortable with”.
The president of the Canaco explained that the government of the town of Progreso is aware of the stories that tourists have about the destination and is working on a plan to counter them.
Comments like the following can be read at cruisecritic.com from people that allegedly visited Progreso:
“We got off the boat to purchase a few t-shirts, but we did not feel comfortable travelling into Progreso. It's a strange little port, in our opinion. Kind of dissappointed. We spent the rest of the time on the ship”.
Right now, most of the travelers that arrive by boat prefer to go to Mérida, Celestún or Chichén Itzá. These day trips are offered to them when they first buy their tickets, Abraham noted. So if they do research on the internet, they may be inclined to skip a day on the beach in Progreso if they read negative comments.
Promotion of the many different day trips can even be seen on the cruise line website:
“Carnival cruises to Progreso dock on Mexico’s Emerald Coast alongside the Gulf of Mexico, where hot pink flamingos gather by the hundreds and sun-bleached Maya pyramids rise from the jungle. Inland from Progreso’s golden beaches are the spectacular Maya ruins of Uxmal and the colorful city of Mérida, the region’s best shopping stop for handmade crafts”. (http://bit.ly/2c6Lh6x)
“For the last few months, cruises arrive from Cozumel, where they spend all their money. When they arrive to Progreso, they just walk on the beach and drink beer.”, Eddie Barbosa, a local hat seller, said to El Diario de Yucatan as quoted in a recent article.
Why does Cozumel Island seem to be more attractive than Progreso? When a cruise ship arrives to Cozumel, the travelers have a wealth of upscale stores and restaurants where they can shop and eat. They can visit fairly modern shopping malls, beach bars and beach clubs with many amenities.
“Cozumel offers services as scuba diving, high end jewelry stores and duty free stores selling liquor, perfume, cigarettes and other things”, pointed out Juan José Abraham, from the Canaco.
Not so in Progreso.
“If you need to use the restroom here, you need to buy the food that I sell and then I will give you this coupon to give to the person across the street at Willi’s”, says a waiter on the beach to his foreign clients, while he points to a small austere restaurant across the street.
The restroom might seem okay to those of us used to how things are at the beach in Mexico, but it might not look so good to people coming off of a luxurious cruise ship. In addition, if those tourists have not eaten there, what are their options?
According to Abraham, two new restaurants will bring new services to Progreso that can improve the cruceros' experience in port. One restaurant is called Crasbster and the other one is La Antigua Bar. But it appears that more effort will need to be made and it will need to be a concerted effort that includes the city’s mayor and the state government.
Yucatecans might yet find a way to differentiate Progreso from other port cities nearby, and increase it's attraction to travelers on the cruise ships. It is good to remember that Yucatecans are the inventors and investors that gave the world all that magic today we know as Cancun and the Riviera Maya, places created in only one generation. It is way too soon to write off Progreso, but important to understand the challenges it faces.
You might also like Jonathan Ruiz' article on Yucatan Economic Growth.
Sierradave 5 years ago
This article and most comments were posted in 2016, 4 years into a city administration called by many Progeseños "the worst ever." A new government has been in office for six weeks and has already picked up over 500,000 tons (really) of trash, made Malecon improvements and initiated a citizen complaint report service that is actually working. The mayor and tourism director have already met with expats to get our input on how to make the city more attractive.
But having said all that, Progreso is NOT, and I hope never becomes, a sanitized, ersatz-Mexico cruise ship port. This city is first and foremost the largest and most important commercial port in the Yucatan Peninsula, has a huge fishing fleet and is the new home of the Progreso Special Economic Zone that promises to bring billions of pesos in investment to the area.
So get off the ship. DO take a trip to Merida or a Maya city if you've never been there. But cetainly don't be afraid to come and sample a real, working Mexican port town.
florence coutts 6 years ago
Mr. Daguer has a lot of nerve blaming the poor dogs for the fact that tourists don't want to walk around Progreso. The people of Progreso are the issue. They take no pride in their town, especially in the waterfront. We live on the water, not on the small strip where the hotels clear the sand of sargasso, but on t he other side of the malecon....that glorious, never ending stetch of sand one, unfortunately, is not even able to view. It iscovered with sargasso which is completely littered with garbage during the heart of cruise ship season. On a daily basis we watch Mexican people bring large bags with their home garbage and recycling and simply drop it on the beach. On weekends Mexican families drop poop laden stinky diapers right in the sand where they change their infants.When a few drinks are shared with friends anywhere on the long stretch of boardwalk, no attempt is made to put the empties in the garbage cans. That is because everyone knows that the broken, dilapidated refuse containers will never be emptied. So do the stray dogs try to glean a meal from the leftovers? Ofcourse they do.! But for God's sake do not blame them for the problems of Progreso's image.
Progreso lacks proper infrastructure, plain and simple. The miniscule municiple garbage system only deals with a small specific area of the the central core and certainly not on a regular basis. The rest of the town, where people actually live, appears to have no governmental garbage pickup. Instead, if a family can afford it, they rely on pick up from old, broken down trucks owned. and driven by private citizens.
Frankly, the time that anything to do with cleanliness and image kicks into action is starting the week before Semana Santa so that the wealthy Meridianos who own the beachfront homes will see nothing but pristine beach during their stay.
If Progreso wants to see itself as a tourist destination, it needs to invest in itself. Municipal garbage pickup weekly througout the town, throughout the year, Continuous maintenance of the boardwalk attending to broken boards and garbage bins. Bring in recycling in a big way , banning plastic. If a city as large as Delhi, India can do it, so can Progreso. Removal of the sargasso with trucks is not an ecologically sound prospect. It is also not cost effective. Work with the Mexican scientists who are world leaders in finding uses for the seaweed.
Ask the Meridianos where they do their grocery shopping for their vacation stay in Progreso. Those I have spoken with purchase most of their food and supplies in Merida . Why? Because they consider Progreso to be dirty. If your own Mexican people are not comfortable in Progreso, what do you think foreign tourists see who are leaving the sterile environment of a cruise ship.
. It makes me cry to think that a few innocent dogs may suffer because a bureaucrat could not even muster the energy to examine the issues plaguing Progreso. Progreso has an incredible amount of potential. With proper care it does not need to evolve into another plastic Cancun. It is first and foremost a fishing village. The care, welfare and livlihood of the wonderful men and women who devote their lives to the sea are paramount.
So don't blame the dogs!
Jim Geezer 6 years ago
Just an idea,..........before you go on vacation, do some homework regarding your destination. Do yourself a favour and the people around you, quit your gd whining. If you want perfection, stay at home. If you want to change the world to suit yourself you won't have anytime to enjoy your vacation. Maybe change the word vacation to grumble trip, Hope this helps.
scott laakso 7 years ago
Progreso has a great number of problems to get over if it wants to remain a port of call or the cruise ships. There are drunken fisherman getting right in the face of the few tourists that actually walk towards the malecon " Hey gringo, give me one dollar" seems to be the extent of their english. The beach is trashy no matter how many people are out there picking up garbage: set foot on the beach and look down and you will see rusty bottlecaps everywhere. There are police around but I have never seen them enforce the "no public drunkeness" policy, and this would certainly help. Also enforcing this law might clean up some of the drunks sleeping on the beach in the mornings surronded in their own beer cans from the night before...
Jonathan Ruiz 7 years ago
I agree. I just come back from Ensenada, Baja California (the other side of the country), and saw many ideas that could be applied in Progreso. I may post them in a different article. Anyway, I have known Progreso since more than 20 years ago and it is true as well that it has improved, but at a very slow pace. I'll keep following its progress, to collaborate in an acceleration for the benefit of its own population. Thanks.
Gavan Connell 7 years ago
Progreso is a dump as far as tourist options go. They get off the ship, walk two blocks from the bus stop and they are walking through garbage in the streets and past sullen people who look at them as nothing more than the chance to get a few dollars. Meanwhile, who has negotiated a deal with the local Naval base to take passengers from the ship straight out of Progreso? Who has negotiated the dune buggy tours that are allowed to go and take passengers from the ship when nobody else is allowed to go there? Who has a car rental company that has a fleet of Jeeps that take passengers straight from the ship when nobody else is allowed to go there? Previous officials have stolen the cream off the top of the milk before the passengers ever see land. The locals have to make do with the rest. I wanted to start up a tourism business here but was told a top official had the monopoly on that particular type of business and so it would be a waste of time...
I have friends who have cruised to Progreso. They were told on the ship that Progreso is dangerous and not to go off the Malecon. Now who would want them to think that, I wonder to myself?
Seven kilometres from Progreso is the small fishing village of Chicxulub Puerto, where I have lived for a number of years. That village is poor. It is also the place where the most monumental event in the course of the history of the planet took place and NOBODY I have spoken to off a cruise ship knows that. Why not? Why isn't it developed for tourism? Could it be that past administrations from Progreso were so busy skimming the cream off the cruise line industry that they didn't want any competition from Chicxulub? I have brought passengers to Chicxulub Puerto and they are fascinated to know what took place here. They spend a few pesos on an ice cream at the entrance to the pier at Chicxulub and that is the extent of the cruising dollar here in Chicxulub. No wonder people are skeptical about tourism and don't bother to clean up their garbage or keep their dogs off the beach. Of those 3077 passengers per ship, NOT EVEN TEN would know about Chicxulub or how to get here.
But the owner of the tourist bus that takes tours around Progreso Centro and shows them the Palacio Municipal and the Post Office that has the paint peeling off it and then returns to the Malecon reminding people that they should tip the driver would never dream of driving to Chicxulub Puerto to show people where the meteorite landed 60,000,000 years ago.
I have been involved in meetings over the years with government officials who nod their heads in agreement and then do nothing. If they aren't going to make money from something, it is not worth their personal time. I have been told by officials that yes, corruption was present under the previous administration but the new government will be different.
Progreso has the potential to offer more but the locals who already have the business don't want to lose it and the remainder are bludgeoned into a state of hoplessness by alleged government indifference and corruption.
The truth is, the ships only come here because it is on the way to and from Cozumel and the Port taxes are cheap.
Jonathan Ruiz 7 years ago
I agree. A new opportunity to show Chicxulub to the world is the exploration that right now takes place there. I’ll keep following the story. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/03/scientists-gear-drill-ground-zero-impact-killed-dinosaurs
Working Gringa 7 years ago
Gavan, you bring up a lot of good points and important issues. Problems that are difficult to solve, and perhaps impossible to solve as an expat guest in Mexico. We will see what the future holds...
Gavan Connell 7 years ago
I'm a Mexican, not an expat guest.
Regardless, the problems are difficult to solve.
The response, "Who are we? We can do nothing!" is far too common on the streets of Mexico
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