Just How Special Is Todos Santos?

Special, but far from the only magic town in Mexico
BY: NAT SASS

Our own Todos Santos just an hour up the West Coast from Cabo was bestowed the title of a magic town by the feds a few years ago, and it did seem to go to the residents’ heads. They thought they were on their way with tourism. The “magic towns” are supposed to be locations — cities, towns or villages — with special symbolic features, historical significance, natural beauty or cultural riches. It is also intended to reduce the heavy reliance of the tourist industry on one of Mexico’s key attractions; sunshine and beach destinations.

Out of 118 Mexican towns that applied for this special status, last month, 28 new magical towns were added, bringing the total to 111 towns that have been inducted into the program since it started in 2001. But how many magic towns can the country have before the concept loses its sparkle?

Nearly three years ago Geo-Mexico raised concerns about the program’s integrity, suggesting that recent additions back then were far from magical, criticizing the administration of former president Felipe Calderón for not only making some dubious choices but for rushing through another 17 designations during his last days in office, bringing the total to 83. Some of these new towns display few charms for tourists, and not much in the way of cultural or historical significance either.

So modifications were made to the Pueblos Mágicos program last November with the introduction of requirements that were more strict, said Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid during last weekend’s National Pueblos Mágicos Fair held in Puebla.

The changes were designed to help guarantee a uniformity among the destinations sharing the Pueblos Mágicos brand, and convey to domestic and foreign visitors the guarantee of a certain level of quality, the secretary explained.

There are good reasons for a town to want to be a part of this elite group. At the National Pueblos Mágicos Fair, which was held last month, Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid announced 4 billion pesos to add to the magic until the end of 2018. The designation, he observed, is “a happy occasion for these communities because it consists of combining the resources of the federal government with those of the states to invest, for example, in underground services, restore important architectural monuments and improve infrastructure to promote tourism.” He didn’t say whether any thought has been given to putting a cap on the number of designated towns.

The towns themselves will divvy up 24 million dollars next year, to be spent on such things as maintenance, rebuilding historic centers, improving infrastructure, installing underground utilities, and developing tourism products. Our own Todos Santos is currently undergoing street resurfacing and placing of utilities underground courtesy of some of this money. The federal money isn’t quite as much as it was in light of budget cuts, however. The 2016 allocation to the towns is down 20% from the money they have enjoyed this year.

But another benefit of the program is that it brings more visitors to these towns, each of which spends an average of $45 a day, according to program administrators.  The increase in visitor numbers and income is estimated to run between 20 and 30% for a town with the magic designation.

The designation is not guaranteed to be permanent. Todos Santos, as well as every other magical town, is subject to an annual evaluation to make sure they live up to their obligations, which include such things as keeping up the appearance of the town, and keeping it clean.

Baja Only has three such towns: Todos Santos, Loreto, and Tecate.