Sunday, December 6, 2009

Terminal Pride in Loreto

This week I had my first occasion to visit the “new” Airport here in Loreto, not as a passenger, but to meet some visitors. The original Airport building was a small low thatched roof structure that had served Loreto for about 20 years. About two years ago construction started on the new terminal building. As the foundations rose out of the ground it became clear that this new facility was going to be three or four times the size of the old building and a major improvement in infrastructure that would handle many times the current passenger capacity.

Under the soaring vaulted roof of the “L” shaped building, there are large open public areas with seating, storefronts for services, public washrooms, several snack bars and a comfortable open concept restaurant area. Parking was always a challenge at the old terminal with cars crowded into a rough sandy area that was difficult terrain to manage wheeled luggage through, and little curb side space for loading and unloading for pick-ups and drop-offs. By comparison, the new terminal has well designed vehicle access with plenty of room for coming and going, a separate taxi loading area and plenty of accessible paved parking. After I parked in a spot close to the terminal I was approached by a young man in an Airport Services uniform who gave me a written receipt for the 15 peso ($1.25) flat rate charge, a pleasant contrast to North American Airport parking fees!

While waiting for my visitors to arrive I enjoyed a tasty, freshly cooked burger and a couple of cold beer in the restaurant area which was located in the sunny south end of the building, in front of a floor to ceiling arch of windows that I would guess are almost 50 feet high. The tables were shaded by indoor umbrellas and there was a small service bar with a good selection of wine, liquors and beer with a compact kitchen area that prepared an appealing variety of salads, burgers, sandwiches and pizzas. This new restaurant, called Porto Bello, is the second location with the same name and menu, owned and operated by Pedro, whose first establishment opened a couple of years ago on the harbour front at Puerto Escondido about half an hour south of town.

It is worth noting here that the investment that is represented by this new Terminal is a clear indication of the expectations of the Mexican authorities for the future growth of tourism and commerce in Loreto and the surrounding area. The Airport will service a substantial area of Baja Sur, extending from Santa Rosalia and Mulege to the north and Constitution to the south, or approximately a two hour drive in either direction. For those of us lucky enough to live in Loreto Bay, access to an International airport less than a 15 minute drive from our homes, has always been an important asset for this development and the establishment of this new facility represents a valuable upgrade in that infrastructure.

Following the theory of “if you build it they will come” the enlarged capacity of this Terminal assumes a future of increased airlift with more frequent flights, choice of departure locations and flexibility of connections, all of which will make positive differences to Home Owners and short term visitors alike. The balance between access and accommodations inevitably becomes a “chicken or egg” equation and with rumours of Alaska/Horizon adding passenger capacity to their Loreto flights in the New Year combined with the possibility of other Airlines starting to serve this destination are the early indications that the strategy of building the new Terminal will result in the desired effect.

On the accommodation side of this, I have previously described the beautiful La Mission Hotel, that opened on the Malacon in town a year ago (see Missionary Style, Feb. ‘09) and we are now looking forward to the immanent opening of the Santa Fe Hotel, which is undergoing finishing touches near the entrance to the town and will provide large, nicely furnished rooms at very reasonable rates. When these new properties are joined by the INN at Loreto Bay returning to full operations there will be a total of close to 500 rooms added to the tourism- resort market capacity in just over a year.

As the 2009 year comes to a close, I believe there is good reason for optimism that the New Year will bring a current of positive change to Loreto and the surrounding areas, with the obvious economic benefits of more visitors and easier access for those who already have homes here. While there is obviously an element of self-interest in this outcome, from my own perspective, the biggest potential beneficiaries of an improving local economy will be the many businesses that depend on the tourist spending for most of their revenues. Spending that has been severely reduced during this year of much uncertainty, with consequences that have caused hardship for many here who are looking forward to better times coming soon.

Speaking of the coming Holiday season, this posting will be my last until the New Year – I leave Loreto next week to return to Calgary and spend the Christmas holidays with family and friends. While I am looking forward to spending time there and seeing the people, I feel torn by leaving my many friends here and missing the very different celebrations that will mark the Holidays ``Loreto Style``. But fear not, loyal readers, with the help of some of my friends, I have made arrangements for several ``Guest Blogs`` to give you new and fresh perspectives and insights into our life here. Thanks to these volunteer authors, I hope you will continue to visit this site over the next few weeks and share some other`s perspectives on this beautiful place.

So in conclusion, let me extend my sincere best wishes to all of you who have supported these musings over the past year, I will suppress my natural modesty and thank you for your overwhelming response that has resulted in almost 20,000 visits to this blog in my first year of postings! When I began writing this just over a year ago, I had no expectation of the interest that my view of life here would create and I feel humbled by that support – Thank You! Sharing a place I love with thousands of strangers that I may never meet is a unique experience - one of the many such experiences that are `Living Loreto``!