Last updated: 02:43 PM ET, Tue September 22 2015

Opinion Home | Magic of Mexico

  • Greg Custer | September 22, 2015 2:43 PM ET

    Where's Your Village in the Sun?

    Where's Your Village in the Sun?

    Sun-starved vacationers have made Mexico the most popular international destination for Americans. It’s easy to see why. Mexico’s superb assortment of resorts, proximity, foreign-yet-familiar conveniences, friendly hosts and affordability are perennial magnets that put Mexico atop the quickie getaway list.

    What about Mexico for longer stays? Or even permanent residency? Mexico has had norteamericano snowbird residents for decades. This seasonal ebb and flow will no doubt continue. However, it’s the permanent, long-stay opportunity that’s changing the retirement game.

    Relocation abroad has become a viable option for many of your clients. The U.S. population is retiring in record numbers, while also caring for aging parents, and facing escalating health care costs. Many are simply looking for new lifestyle frontiers (especially ones with quality health care, and maybe a nearby Costco).

    The beach will always be a popular first choice for retirement consideration. Having already vacationed at Baja, Pacific and Caribbean resorts, you and clients might suppose these coastal towns have the perfect long-stay credentials. And many do, albeit with a certain acceptance of tropical weather (humid, rainy season), higher cost of living and seasonal cruise ship hoards.

    If living where others party is not your paradise, take out a map and find Mexico’s central plateau, an area of mountains, volcanoes, high desert, big cities and colonial towns. Make a big circle around the highlands between Guadalajara and Mexico City. This is a good place to start exploring.

    For us, the choice of “where” came via a convergence of happenstance and necessity. Following a visit with a friend in Guadalajara last year, my wife Jane brought me two 1940’s books about Mexico lakeside living. They are the work of Englishman Peter Lilly, writing under the name Dane Chandos. Lilly adopted and adored Mexico’s Lake Chapala. It was his home for some 40 years. He died in 1979, living in his San Antonio Tlayacapan casa (45 minutes south of Guadalajara). The books (House in the Sun and Village in the Sun) are travel classics from a not so distant past. They colorfully describe the challenges, everyday curiosities, and interpersonal connections that still draw so many norteamericanos to Mexico.

    The books awakened memories of summer 1993. Our family of five spent nearly a month in a rented hillside house just outside of the town of Chapala. Mexico was a different place then. The internet was in its infancy. NAFTA had yet to pry open Mexico’s closed economy. Lakeside roads were dilapidated and sometimes impassible. If you were dying for a Snickers bar or familiar American brands, better get on a plane home. Despite these “sacrifices,” the stay was fondly remembered as the essence of Mexico living: scenic, safe, small town simplicity married with big city conveniences just a short drive away (Guadalajara).

    Some 20 years later, Mexico has changed – most would say for the better. But so too had our circumstances. Carrying for an aging parent became a considerable factor. The same is true for millions of 55+ Americans – a key demographic for your business’ future.

    Interesting, but why does this matter to your business?

    Today over one million Americans call Mexico their year-round home. There’s a growing acceptance of living abroad opportunities. Many (me included) believe a migratory tsunami is beginning to crest. It’s not Mexicans moving north (these numbers continue to fall), but rather boomers, their parents, and young entrepreneurs who are exploring Mexico for long-term stays.

    Your business could take the sour-grapes path: “As more Americans move south, aren’t I just losing another customer — only worse? When a beach client succumbs to time-share, at least they eventually come back home and remain a customer!”

    Others will see opportunity. Is there really a safe, sunny, affordable, and culturally diverse option you can show retirement-ready clients? Once you counsel them about move options, can you still book their travel, arranging for family visits, trips north, or summer vacations for grandkids?

    How would you handle a customer inquiry “We are considering a move overseas, what’s your advice?” These are questions agents will either embrace or ignore. One group will see a business niche; another will say, “why bother.”

    Like the travel revolutions of the past, will your business be ahead of the wave, or left in its wake? One thing seems pretty clear: as we approach 2020, the gringo sitting across from you in 23D may be heading home – to Mexico.

    Note: Greg and wife Jane now reside in San Antonio Tlayacapan. This Magic of Mexico blog will offer business ideas and Mexico insights, challenging the way your business engages with its 55+ clientele. 


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Greg Custer Magic of Mexico

Greg Custer Greg Custer is a California native with more than 35 years working in various international travel industry capacities. He spent 14 years in aviation (TWA, Mexicana, Aerocalifornia). With a love for studying all things Latin America, (BA/MA UCLA, Latin American Studies) he is a leading authority on travel agent educational programs for Latin American tourism boards. Greg is fluent in written and spoken Spanish and has conducted hundreds of training workshops for travel agents. He is an accomplished travel photographer and author (with wife Jane) of the “Magic of Mexico” travel agent study guide. He resides in Ajijic (Jalisco) Mexico, enjoying one foot in the modern world and the other in Mexican pueblo life.
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