Since my return home last year, I've been trying to define what it is exactly that lured me back to Puerto Vallarta after many years abroad. I asked around and received a confusing array of opinions on what Vallarta is all about.
Vallarta is not the sleepy hideaway it once was, nor is it a thriving metropolis. It is neither tranquil nor exciting. According to Greenpeace it's not eco-friendly ‚ our beaches are polluted and we produce too much garbage ‚ though we increasingly trade on an eco-image. It is a victim of urban development yet has no discernible urban development policy. Vallarta is full of contradictions which is it's charm but may ultimately cause Vallarta to lose business and tourism to more considered destination brands in the future.
Consumers need to believe in what they buy. When we buy, we buy into that product's vision of the world, if temporarily. Think of any brand that enjoys success and you'll see a brand that has a carefully refined message and communications strategy. For a brand to succeed it must be considered, consistent and coherent. Brands that enjoy longevity and customer preference know how to distinguish themselves, protect what they are and leverage goodwill.
Brand Vallarta, on the other hand, is almost single-handedly squandering a rare and wonderful opportunity. The problem? We seem unsure as to what we are or where we're heading. A lot of good work is being done to protect Vallarta, but what is needed is an overarching strategy that guides development on every level, respects our heritage and ensures the long term well-being of the city.
Though well intentioned, the recent 'restoration'of the Centro Historico is little more than a band-aid solution when more pertinent issues are at stake. The sum invested in painting el Centro seems paltry when compared to the millions spent on developments like El Molino de Agua and Rivera Cuale: two developments that have irrevocably damaged the city's character.
And while the government deserves credit for the center's restoration, the recent installation of Starbucks near Burger King and the now defunct Hooters in the main plaza demands an explanation. Nothing against the franchises, but we need ask if the wanton Americanization of our historic center really is good for tourism.
Progress is welcome, but no substantial change to the city's identity should be approved without first considering the impact on the city as a whole. Certainly, the property market has created wealth for many, but over-crowding, increased traffic, a creaking infrastructure and disregard for the local surroundings may yet outweigh the benefit these developments have brought Vallarta.
In Europe, Paris and Ibiza, have powerful and creative committees that regulate the cities' development and their brands. Ibiza has a focused development strategy that regulates growth without hampering progress. It has also invested many millions of Euros in upgrading hotels and local facilities to attract more affluent tourists with the aim of reducing visitor numbers while increasing per-visitor spending in order to ease pressure on the environment and infrastructure.
If Vallarta is to compete successfully in the international arena it needs to develop a clear brand strategy that guides not only its marketing and communications, but compliments its social, economic and environmental policies. This strategy would coordinate various government departments, businesses and developers with a single and unifying vision of the future.
How do we start? We begin with discourse: by asking questions and by being heard. We begin by collectively defining who we are and what we want for our corner of paradise. By defining what we want, we identify what's important and what needs protection and support. The articulation of this vision, the articulation of our Vallarta, is the first step in making that vision a reality. It is up to us Vallartenses to begin the dialogue.