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 Archaeological Zones as Tourism Resources Minimize

The result of the two principal periods of monumental reconstruction has been that today the archaeological zones treated in this fashion form part of the system of tourist resources of the country, along with other cultural and natural attractions such as historic centers, ethnic elements or "folklore", artistic events, beaches, or forests. After World War II the tourism phenomenon acquired a positive feedback, that is, owing to improvements in transportation and other technologies the tourist flow grew substantially, motivating governments to address it as part of economic growth. Resources such as archaeological zones which had filled a function of reinforcing national values and identity in Mexico became sources of income for the state, which sells the opportunity to enjoy them like any other commodity (Schavelson 1990: 224).

There are no systematic studies which reflect the development of a tourist presence in the archaeological zones which interest us, as on the one hand it is not a central concern for INAH, and on the other those responsible for managing national tourism are very confident of a continuing and growing success of archaeology as a tourist resource. To date there are no publications on the subject with trustworthy data, primarily because the personnel charged with keeping these data are the INAH custodial staff, for whom this is one more task in the daily routine and for which they have received no specific training. There are entire days with high tourist flow owing to free admission—Sundays and holidays archaeological zones and museums are free of charge—so the custodians prefer to close the ticket booth and shift their activities to security and supervision of key points. The result is an entire day without data on visitor flow. The same happens when available blocks of tickets are exhausted; the custodians close the ticket counter and provide free entry to the zone. It was not until 1994 that Monte Alban had an administrator to oversee these aspects of income and management, and not until 1995 in Mitla.

One would expect respective agencies at the federal and state levels would establish mechanisms for collection and analysis of data to track use of archaeological zones and what they need for effective operation. Nevertheless, the reality is that the Secretary of Tourism Development depends on and trusts the data collected by INAH, as incomplete as these are. In practice there is little systematic study of tourism, as the operating assumption seems to be that the visitor flow will continue regardless of circumstances and the degree of attention given to it. And to the extent archaeological zone management responds more to the changing winds of policy direction from Mexico City and the preferences of top policy-makers, rather than being based on data analysis, then there is no point in wasting scarce resources on an information process which will not be used.

From different sources we can make some estimates of visitor flow to the two zones, taking into account certain constraints on data reliability. To the factors mentioned above one must add an admissions policy which provides free entry to archaeological zones for students, teachers, children, and senior citizens. Sunday no-one pays an admissions charge, not even foreign tourists. In September, 1929, 220 visitors are reported for Mitla and 38 for Monte Alban, while in May, 1931, the respective figures were 65 visitors to Mitla and 304 to Monte Alban (Schavelson 1990: 122). In May, 1994, Monte Alban received 4497 recorded visitors, and in September of the same year 7722 visitors (Archives of the Monte Alban Archaeological Zone 1994). By the end of the 1990s in peak periods more visitors arrived at Monte Alban in a single day than in an entire year six decades earlier. In global terms Monte Alban received more than 300,000 visitors in 1995, while Mitla received about 200,000(Administrative Archives, INAH CRO).

These figures give us an idea as how the flow of visitors has grown across time, And with that flow the significance of revenue generated, given that each visitor to Monte Alban pays an entry fee of twenty pesos, while visitors to Mitla pay twelve. The increasing revenues help to explain a growing official interest in closer attention to these figures. There are limited data in the files of INAH's Oaxaca Regional Center which show changes in visitation over time (Figures 6 and 7).

The growth in visitor numbers and revenues notwithstanding, as archaeological zones are part of the federal government INAH until 1998 had no authority to manage revenues directly. Income from entrance fees is channeled to the Secretary of Revenues to form part of the national budget. Although in 1995 Monte Alban generated more than 4.5 million pesos and Mitla nearly 2 million pesos, at times the Oaxaca Regional Center lacked funds for even minimal maintenance. While this policy is understandable from some perspectives, at the practical level it means the archaeological resources used by tourism have to absorb without maintenance the degradation—many times irreversible—caused by such use.

It is equally important to point out that in spite of the noteworthy growth in tourism, and that its promotion has become an important part of government policy vis-a-vis INAH and the Secretary of Tourism, with few exceptions there is little long-range planning for conservation. A few sites such as Cacaxtla or the Templo Mayor have received some of the infrastructure needed to reduce degradation caused by constant use, e.g., walkways and railings, but these are the exceptions. The result is that while more visitors generate more income they also generate greater deterioration through increased use of the original architectural elements such as floors, stairs, walls, or tombs, yet there is little recognition of this in the allocation of funds and human resources. For 1995 at Monte Alban, with the 4.5 million pesos in revenue mentioned ealier, the budget for conservation and research was 50,000 pesos, and in Mitla for the same year it was 5000 pesos.

Tourist visitation at Monte Alban centers on the Main Plaza and nearby structures, an area of a few hectares, and it is to this sector that maintenance and conservation resources flow. The other monumental sites such as Cerro El Gallo, Atzompa, and others have no specific priority and do not even receive regular security checks against looting and vandalism. As a consequence tourists receive an exceptionally limited notion of the site. In Mitla tourism concentrates around the Hall of the Columns, a space of less than a hectare, which receives the full brunt of increasing visitor traffic on its original and delicate elements.

Perhaps the most significant effect is that the average resident of the state and of communities surrounding these sites see in INAH's management behavior and budgetary practices confirmation of their own perceptions that the archaeological zones in reality consist of nothing more than the monumental structures. INAH's claims to have a protective responsibility over the archaeological resources of a larger area seem inconsistent with how it behaves, making such claims appear illogical, perverse, or grounded in darker motives. One might think that archaeological sites not open to the public are at least spared the deterioration caused by tourist visitation. But the reality is that the lack of attention signals an absence of institutional commitment, and contributes to the invasion or destruction of sites not included in plans for tourism development. Thus the critical dilemma is that increasing visitor use may speed deterioration of sites because it is not mitigated by increased conservation, but an absence of visitors encourages other abuse and a perception such sites are unimportant.