The Riviera Maya in Mexico is Getting a New Airport

Mexico kicks off Riviera Maya airport development

Posted on May 11, 2010 by Glynna Prentice


At 9 a.m. this morning (CDT), Mexico finally opened bidding for the construction and operation of a new international airport. It will be located on the stretch of Caribbean Coast known as the Riviera Maya. Technical proposals for the airport must be received by November 15, though bidding companies must be approved before then by the Mexican commission overseeing corporate competition.

The long-anticipated project has been years in the planning and has been delayed a number of times.

Presidencia de la Republica Aeropuerto Riviera Maya
UPDATE 2-Mexico kicks off Riviera Maya airport development- * New airport in Tulum. Will serve tourists from U.S., Europe (Rewrites, adds background, details from statement) MEXICO CITY, May 11 (Reuters) - Mexico will begin to accept bids in mid-November for the construction and operation of a new airport south of the tourist hot spot of Cancun on the Caribbean, the government said on Tuesday. The international airport will be located in the state of Quintana Roo, in the former fishing town of Tulum, which attracts thousands of visitors from Europe and the United States every year to its white sand beaches, Maya ruins and pristine waters. Airport operators like Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste (ASURB.MX) (PAC.N) and Grupo Aeroportuario del Centro Norte (OMAB.MX) have said they would keep an eye open for any new tenders in Mexico. The long-delayed airport project is expected to receive 3 million tourists on its third year of operation, the communications and transportation ministry said in a statement. Development of the new airport had been put on hold for many years due to red tape and a complex bidding process. "Among other benefits, the new airport will reduce travel time from Cancun or Cozumel to other destinations in the Mayan Riviera as well as encouraging diversification of the tourist industry," the government said. Mexico's airline and tourism industry were hit hard last year by a swine flu epidemic that scared away many international visitors, leading to steep losses for carriers, hotels and airport operators alike. (Reporting by Cyntia Barrera Diaz and Patrick Rucker, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

The new airport will be located west of Tulum, at the southern end of the Riviera Maya. (The Riviera Maya runs south of Cancun down to Tulum.) A 1,500-hectare lot (about 3,707 acres) has been set aside for the airport, which is expected to cost about 3.2 billion pesos. The proposed airport is expected to be able to handle three million passengers, even in its early phases.

Mexico president Felipe Calderon formally re-launched the airport project in a speech on March 22. Within days, however, the Ministry of Roads and Transports postponed—yet again—the date to open bidding. Among naysayers, this fueled their skepticism about a project that has been on-again, off-again for years.

But on the Riviera Maya itself, concrete evidence—literally—that the airport would happen has been going up left and right for months. Today, driving along the Caribbean coastal highway from Cancun down to Tulum, you see federal- and state-financed construction everywhere.

“The infrastructure to support a new airport is in place,” says Shawn Bandick, a Canadian realtor in Playa del Carmen. “They’re putting millions of dollars into infrastructure.”

Along the highway that runs down Mexico’s Caribbean Coast, new overpasses have been built at the towns of Puerto Morelos and Aventuras, near Cancun, and are under construction at Playa del Carmen. The overpasses allow through traffic to head directly down the coast, easing congestion at the beach resorts. At Akumal, a new road around the back of town, locals say, can easily connect up with an airport access road. And in Tulum, the beach town closest to the airport’s proposed location, an entire new downtown is under construction. Workers there busily lay new cobblestone walkways, carefully stepping over surveyors’ gridlines that mark off new commercial lots.

Much of this infrastructure was already needed for the Riviera Maya, which has exploded as a tourist destination over the last decade—outpacing the government’s own projections. But it also paves the way for the new airport—and the additional tourism it is expected to bring. At present, Cancun is the only international airport serving Mexico’s Caribbean Coast.

Presidente Felipe Calderon en Tulum
El presidente Felipe Calderón, flanqueado por el gobernador Félix González Canto y la recién designada secretaria de Turismo, Gloria Guevara Manzo -Foto Diario de Yucatán

The launch of the new airport bidding process is also something of a personal triumph for Calderon. When he first took office as president, Calderon set forth an ambitious agenda to improve Mexico’s infrastructure—for expanding and upgrading highways, railways, sea ports and airports. The infrastructure program was meant to be a hallmark of his administration, a key element of his legacy as president. And a new Riviera Maya airport was a crown jewel in that program. But the drug war, the global economic recession, and even the H1N1 flu last year all conspired to divert energy and funds from his original goals.

With the bidding process now under way, Calderon may see the airport largely constructed before his term ends in 2012.

After years of fits and starts, today’s announcement finally justifies the optimism of a sign at the highway turnoff near Tulum that leads to Cobá. Down this road is the parcel of land set aside for the new airport, where nothing—as yet—exists.

The sign reads simply “Aeropuerto”.

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